The Immigration Attorney: Guidy Mamann. | AMI Magazine | April 9, 2104 9 NISSAN 5774. pp. 188-195.
What's your specialty?I'm a certified immigration specialist.
You're located in Ontario?Yes, in Downtown Toronto.
Are the issues between Quebec and Ontario an immigration one?No. The immigration issue is a matter of federal jurisdiction. The immigration issue arises from the fact that most of the parents are either American or Israeli citizens. However, because these families have been in Canada for so long now, the vast majority of their children are Canadian citizens because they were born on Canadian soil. The parents enjoy only temporary status which has been extended from time to time, The question now arises, given all the difficulties that community has faced, is where is the best place for these families moving forward, Canada or some other place?
Every country has its own immigration laws and requirements and any country that the group might consider as a future home must take into account those laws and abide by those laws.
The issue between Quebec and---pg. 188
Ontario arises only in connection with the alleged child protection issues. Each province has its own family laws. Since the group moved from Quebec to Ontario there is a question as to which province's laws apply. The parents of the children prefer to have Ontario law apply.
Lev Tahor told me the Canadian government sent people to pick them up in Trinidad and return them to Canada. Is that true?Yes. That's true.
Is that unusual?I would call that highly unusual. I don't know that it's unprecedented. But I don't recall in my 28 years of practice something similar to that.
Why did the government feel that it was so important to do that?It's hard to say, but I think the government didn't want the public to get the idea that a court order could be ignored without any consequences. It wanted the court order to be enforced and dedicated the resources that it needed. The more usual procedure would be for our government to contact the authorities abroad and inform them of our concerns and have them return the traveller(s) to Canada. But in this case the Canadian government just sent people to apprehend the children.
Is that a violation of international law?It depends. If Trinidad was in agreement with them to let them on their soil - which I assume they were - then it's not a problem. Of course, if they did it against the will of the Trinidadian government then it would constitute an invasion of their sovereignty. But I suspect they were working together and Trinidad was willing to do anything to make Canada happy. We have a large population of immigrants from Trinidad in Canada and the countries enjoy good relations. Trinidad probably didn't want to spoil those relations and so allowed our officials to do as they saw fit.
Did they come in by Air Force plane?I was there after the plane arrived. I didn't see the actual plane. And even if I did, I don't know if I'd be able to tell if it was a commercial aircraft or one belonging to our government or military. I understand from media sources, that it was a plane chartered by the Canadian government.
I was wondering what your feelings are about the case itself. It seems to me that the government doesn't have anything and they're trying to build up a case against these people?I think you're on the right track. The evidence is very difficult to recognize. There are mountains of allegations, but there doesn't appear to be any evidence there that would justify these very extreme measures. What we understand is that there were two members who left the group. One of them was trying to obtain custody of his children. His wife decided to remain in the group, but he didn't want to stay. We understand that he is the source of the initial allegations of child neglect or abuse. We understand that he went to the authorities and said this is a cult and there's abuse going on. And he did that to assist his efforts to seize custody of his children from his wife. And I understand he was successful and did get custody.
When one makes such serious allegations, obviously the authorities will be summoned and will come investigate. I think the child authorities immediately ruled out the more sinister allegations, but continued to investigate. One of the major issues that arose, mind you many years after the group's initial arrival in Canada, is that these children were not being taught the Quebec school curriculum and the Quebec government was not going to tolerate that.
The child welfare authorities alleged that the children were thus receiving an inadequate education.
Quebec also alleged claims that the children were being systematically harmed. Such behaviour would be virtually unheard of in a chareidi community of which I have visited many in my life. For example, I've never known any such community, as a group, to be starving their children. It makes no sense. Children's authorities came to the Lev Tahor village many times and photographed the cupboards, fridges, and freezers and found the cupboards full. That's what I saw when I went to visit them.
One of the other concerns was about marrying the children at a very early age. There was an allegation that one girl was married at 15, when the minimum legal age is 16. This allegation has not been proven and from what I have been told can be easily disproved. Nonetheless, it---pg. 189
was widely reported that Lev Tahor systematically married girls off at that age.
The real problem here is that the Quebec government is insisting that these families return to Quebec and do something that is impossible - that is to teach their children things that are against their deeply-held religious beliefs and conscience. The Quebec curriculum teaches that man is the product of evolution and they don't want to teach their children that. They believe that Hashem created man in his image. They don't want them taught immodest subjects required by Quebec standards. Also their language of instruction is usually Yiddish or Hebrew and not French. There certainly are some issues to be discussed here. But, in retrospect, these children should never have been taken to Quebec. They should have been taken to Ontairo, which has a much more flexible approach to eduation. In Ontario, parents are free to home school thier children and are not bound to a strict curriculum like in Quebec. Obviously, this is a much better environment for these children to be educated in. The problem is that when Quebec authorities started enforcing their education laws a year or two ago, the Lev Tahor parents took it upon themselves to remove the children to Ontario where they could choose their own curriculum for their children.
This is when the trouble really began. Quebec chased them to Ontario. The group leaders believed they should have a right to live in Ontario. Unfortunately, Quebec pursued them to Ontario and felt committed to stand strong and prove its point that these children are subjects of the Quebec government and should be educated and "protected" in Quebec. That's a matter of politics which should never be a part of a child protection analysis.
These parents are just like all of us. They love their children. They feed their children. They educate their children. The contention that their children are not being educated properly is so ridiculous that it's hard to listen to. When I was there, I had a meal with one of the families. I bentched after the meal from my iPhone. One of the children was intrigued to see me bentching from my iPhone. He must have been six years old or so and so cute. A big smile, long peiyos and very friendly. He asked me if I had the Torah on my iPhone. I showed him that I did. He got so excited. His father said, "He knows the whole thing by heart." I said, "There's no way that's possible." The father insisted. So I randomly picked a posuk to start, and the child continued reading by heart. I was shocked. I repeated this twice. All three times the little boy continued reading from memory from the random passage, from different parshios, that I randomly selected on my iPhone. The boy's father told me that all of his boys are capable of doing that. Which Jewish father wouldn't beam with pride? Their level of education is extraordinarily intense. These are children who devote all of their time to study. Their parents choose to teach them certain things and not other things. I think that's what all parents do, concentrate on the good and avoid the bad.
The kids have never suffered from this type of Torah-intense education. They're self-sufficient. They're not on welfare, They're not on the street begging for money. Their parents know how to teach their children within their own community and that education serves them very well. This is a peace-loving community that isn't involved in criminal activities or immoral conduct. They're very social people. They're--pg. 190
people who believe in a pure lifestyle, unhindered by some terrible influences that many of our children are subjected to today. They choose to live in a small community "on the farm" and teach their children that which we've been taught for thousands of years.
There's no question that they have made many, many more efforts to cooperate with the Quebec government. It looks like the Quebec government is determined to have its way with these children, at any cost. I have no doubt if these children would stay in Ontario they'd have no problems at all. They could continue to be taught in the way of Torah and mitzvos and it would be just great. A lot of their neighbours in Chatham are very supportive. They make absolutely no trouble in the wider community.
For some bizarre reason, Quebec wants them back, even though these families have found a wonderful community to settle in Ontario. It would be hard to fathom that somehow these children would be in peril if they'd be allowed to remain in Ontario. It's just impossible to believe that Ontario cannot ensure the well-being of these children as well as Quebec can. We have as good as set of child laws in Ontario as they have in Quebec. And whether they learn evolution or not is not in any way a justification to say that these children are in need of protection and separation from their parents.--pg. 191
Is Quebec crossing a legal line?That's for the courts to decide. But I will say that we understand that child welfare organisations need to be able to enforce child protection laws. We understand that Quebec doesn't want to appear emasculated publicly. They were dealing with this whole community and now they disappear to Ontario. I understand their nose might be out of joint for that. However, this is not a community where they found children tied up in basements. I'm not sure if Quebec crosses a line. I'm an immigration specialist, not a child law specialist. But Quebec could easily have said to Ontario that if for whatever reason Ontario is more compatible for them, that's fine. Here's the summary of what we have found, these are things you should be looking at, deal with it. I'm sure Ontario would have gladly done that. Quebec is trying to make a point that they must be returned to Quebec when it is not in the best interest of the children to do so. The law in Canada is very clear that the best interest of the children must always be a primary consideration in any ruling that affects children. It does not appear that this is what Quebec is doing here.
The members of this community have found a beautiful, picturesque, and friendly place in Chatham where they are allowed to have more say in the way they want to educate their children. And, at the end of the day, that's what we're really talking about. None of these other sensationalized allegations have borne any kind of credibility.
When I first saw this story about the Lev Tahor in the media, it broke my heart. Our Jewish DNA is 99.9% the same. We keep the Torah, we want to teach our children our heritage of thousands of years, we don't want them to be influenced by negative sources, and we want them married off to the right person. The only thing that distinguished us is a political one. It has nothing to do with the welfare of our children. The Lev Tahor believe that we Jews should wait for the Mashiach to arrive before returning to Israel, The vast majority of Jews, including myself, strenuously disagree and believe that Israel is ours and needed to be reclaimed immediately, especially after seeing six million perish in the Shoah. The group's opposition to Zionism is the only difference between them and mainstream Judaism. Yet our Jewish DNA remains 99.9% the same.
Someone told me an allegation that if someone is out of line with their rules they take a kid from one home and put him in another or lock him up in a basement. Do you think there's any truth to that?Was that allegation made in Quebec or Ontario?
I think in Quebec.When I was in Chatham all I saw were small above ground cottages. I can't say, but I'd be surprised if any buildings in Quebec had a basement. I'm a lawyer. By training I don't believe anything until I see proof because I have--pg. 192
seen so many trials where parties allege something that is later proven to be manifestly untrue. Do I have any proof that this did not occur? Absolutely not. Do I have any proof it didn't? Absolutely not. However, would it be consistent with what I've seen in the community? Not at all.
If we're talking about a single child who was seen to have been punished inappropriately once or twice by his parents, that child and his parents need to be addressed according to the law. They should be brought to court and the allegations proven so that we can deal with it. But I don't believe that allegation is one that is systemic, that all of Lev Tahor do this kind of thing. The parents can be counseled and could receive culturally appropriate training. We don't have to take their kids away. I categorically do not believe that this is a widespread problem because it's inconsistent with their values. The children I saw were all friendly and seemed very well-adjusted. And if there is such an allegation, let it be brought be brought to court and dealt with on an individual basis and not on a wholesale basis.
I said the irony is that they say these people don't have normal feelings towards their children, yet they abandoned their home for their children.I find it shocking how quickly one Jew can believe that a whole group of other Jews - religious Jews - is behaving in a manner completely contrary to our core values. So many have refused to give their fellow Jew the benefit of the doubt. Some have already passed judgement when the allegations have not even been brought to court. It is a very sad state of affairs. We must learn not to be so quick to judge.
I have four daughters of my own. I would never ever try to help parents whom I believe are harming their children. Why would I defend them if I believed that story? When I was in the village, many children interacted lovingly with their moms and dads. They behaved completely normal. When I pulled up they ran to my car very inquisitively. These are normal, everyday children. It bothers me when people who aren't familiar with frum communities are quick to judge based on their appearance and "odd" lifestyle. I can't blame them so much but it's hard for me to believe that Jews, who know these types of communities, can jump to such conclusions so quickly with the rest of the world. I'm wondering if such Jews, including some of our Jewish leaders are not doing a great disservice to our community. Unless they've been to the community themselves, I don't see how they can reach such conclusions.
Why is this community facing hostility?There are other orthodox sects which are anti-Zionist. However, they do not pose a serious existential threat to Israel since they are so insular. They don't really seek to recruit from outside their ranks. However, Lev Tahor's Rebbe is a chozer b'teshuvah and welcomes all Jews. So theoretically speaking, he would--pg. 192
constitute a much greater threat to Israel since the pool of recruits is huge.
How much do you think Israel is involved?The government of Israel is under attack from everywhere - geographically, economically, from every corner. I suppose it cannot be too comforting to see Jews abroad espousing anti-Israeli sentiment.
I would suggest that the government of Israel's number one objective is to provide safe harbour to Jews all over the world, regardless of political affiliations. I don't think we get to choose as a nation which Jews we protect and which we don't. It bothers me to hear that some Jews are worth protection and others, not so much simply because of their political views, I am as strong a Zionist as you can find, but politics will not prevent me from coming to the rescue of a fellow Jew in need.
Is there a point when we can get American congressmen involved to say Canada is violating human rights?I think we can do so immediately, since many of the Lev Tahor members are, in fact, American citizens. Right now, one couple had their four children taken away when they got back from Trinidad, There's no evidence at all those children were being abused or neglected. The parents have never been accused of harming their children. These are people who spent every waking moment caring for their children. It's hard to believe that a country like ours has now basically made these people captives in Canada because they don't want to teach their children the Quebec curriculum.
Where did they put these children?Neither the parents nor I know. They were taken away suddenly, without even a change of clothing. I had to take some bags of clothes from Chatham and kept them in my car for a few days until local child welfare authorities authorized the change of clothing. No one in Lev Tahor knows where they are.
I understand that's what you do when the parent is highly abusive. But that's not the case here.
Are they in a Jewish home?I have no idea. But even if they were, I don't know how comforting that would be for the children. It might not be providing them any comfort at all. Every small child would be traumatized by being separated from their parents' home and placed in a stranger's home.
Were any allegations of abuse ever proven?I have not seen read or heard anything to that effect.
So why were they taken away?The false allegations made against them brought the children's aid people there. They came in with a very suspicious eye and then centered more and more around the educational curriculum.
I think taking away children under these circumstances is meant more to make a statement about the authority of the Quebecois government than to help the children. This is a government that is ready to close a convenience store if the immigrant owner cannot speak French. This is a government that needs to assert its will for whatever social engineering policy it has.
But actually the Ontario government locked them up?Quebec ran to Ontario and said they have jurisdiction over these children. The law in Canada is that when two provinces claim jurisdiction over a child, the province in which the child is "habitually resident" will prevail. But in this particular case, the judge said even though the children were physical residents of Ontario they are habitual residents of Quebec and under its jurisdiction. That's the only decision the Ontario court made and that decision is currently under appeal since the legal issues in this case are a bit more complicated and technical.
Do you think there's anti-Semitism involved?It's hard to say if it's anti-Semitism or a fear of the unknown. To some, these are strange looking people with strange ways...
Do you think religious persecution is involved?It's hard to say. I'd say they're trying to make everybody in Quebec buckle down to the way they see the world. And that includes members of minority religions.
Right now they're making this charter in Quebec where they won't allow people who wear symbols of religious expression to work in the government - like a cross or a kippah. This is social engineering gone crazy.
Crazy or illegal?We have a charter of rights which guarantees everybody freedom of religion. I believe that charter allows us to teach our children our way of life as long as it's not harming the children. I do believe there is an element of religious persecution here. These are people that just want to go about their business on their own and not teach their children certain things. And I think they should have a right to do that.
Don't you find it offensive that a person is judged by the group he's in rather than the actions he's involved in? How can they say because they have evidence against one family all the other families must be treated in the same way? Where does our legal system ever allow that to happen?
Where should they go from here?First of all, most of these people are lawful temporary residents here in Canada. If they decide they don't want to stay here, they should be allowed to go back where they came from. If there's evidence that these children were abused, that has to be brought up to a hearing. We are still a country of laws. In each and every case where there are accusations, the state is obligated to prove it. The government's burden of proof is at a very high level because we are talking about the threat of taking away a person's greatest possession - their children.--pg. 194
If these people decide they want to go back to their country of nationality whether it's Israel or the United States, the Canadian children's welfare authorities simply need to call the children's aid society in Israel and tell them that these people are inbound and that their files will be shared since they are concerned. And that's it. Some of these people are sick and tired of the intense scrutiny and intrusion into their lives here. If they want to go leave Canada, they should be given the opportunity to do just that.
If they have some hard evidence of wrongdoing, let them use the legal process against them as individuals like they would for anyone else. The idea that this community on a wholesale level abuses and neglects children is absolute nonsense.
The other thing that bothers me is the idea that this group is describes as "Jewish Taliban." Taliban are people that don't tolerate any views other than their own and they see their obligation to make everyone out there believe as they do. They kill those "infidels" who stand in their way. This has nothing to do with the values of these people. They don't go about trying to persuade people that theirs is the only way. Besides for women's style of dress choice, there's nothing similar between them and the Taliban. Jews and non-Jews have seized on that and said because they're the Taliban they have the right to take their children.I've never seen anything like this. For somebody to tell me a chareidi community was starving their children - I even heard an allegation they were hanging children from the trees or something. It's frightening, I'm afraid that there's a common sentiment running through this case and the rest of the Jewish community is standing by saying we won't help them because they don't support the state of Israel. That is wrong.
What happened in court on Friday?
There were actually two different court hearings. In Chatham, the appeal heard the battle of the provinces. The parents of the affected children appealed the lower-court decision that the children should be returned to Quebec.
At the same time, in Toronto, I was arguing for the release of three adults who were arrested at home on Wednesday by immigration officials. The arrests had nothing to do with child protection issues. They were related only to their immigration status which had run out and resulted in removal orders. Unfortunately we didn't have sufficient time to find bondspersons who could sign for them so none was released.
It's sad since one is the father of 10 children, 8 of whom are Canadian-born. The other is the 19-year old father of two children who is scheduled for removal to Israel on April 10th. The third is a 29-year old mother of 9 children, 8 of whom were born in Canada. She is still nursing her youngest child, We were able to arrange to have her baby taken to the detention facility to stay with her so she could continue to nurse him.
Have you run out of legal options for them?
Absolutely not. I think the one thing you can blame the community for is not being all that worldly. They don't know how our legal system works, They don't know how things are handled in this world. And they make mistakes. But they didn't make mistakes with evil intentions. They were afraid for their children and they ran like little children. An adult would hire a lawyer and go to court to prove their innocence. They just ran out of fear. But that just means they need to be taught how this system works. That's why I'm here.
Note: This interview was not published online by AMI Magazine but was transcribed from image files of their printed magazine which were uploaded by Miriam Helbrans. As the community and their supporters face the developments expected in the week ahead, I felt that this interview should be read by as wide an audience as possible. I hope that AMI Magazine will understand my intent and not have any objections. This blog is not for profit and not affiliated with any organisation. If you do have an objection, please tell me so via the website of Miriam Helbrans since this is the only way that I will know that you really do represent AMI. I will remove your content immediately. My apologies for any errors.