Child abuse charges stayed against 5 in Mennonite community

Charges against five Mennonite individuals accused of child abuse have been stayed, as about 20 members of the Old Order community filed back into court Tuesday in Minnedosa, Man.

Move paves the way for eventual return of children to their homes

Charges against three Mennonite men accused of child abuse have been stayed, as about 20 community members filed back into court Tuesday in Minnedosa. CBC's Jillian Coubrough reports. 1:48

Charges against five Mennonite individuals accused of child abuse have been stayed, as about 20 members of the Old Order community filed back into court Tuesday in Minnedosa, Man.

A court-ordered publication ban means neither the Mennonite community nor the people charged can be named in order to protect the identities of the alleged victims.

Dozens of the community's children were seized by Child and Family Services and placed in foster homes last year.

CBC reporter Jillian Coubrough said Tuesday it's clear it's been a difficult year for them, living without their children.

Members of an Old Order Mennonite community enter the courthouse in Minnedosa Tuesday. Child abuse charges against some of them were stayed, while others will be pursued. (Sara Calnek/CBC)

"You can see the toll that's taking on their faces," she said.

But she said, for some, they heard "a glimmer of hope" in court.

Some in community relieved

The Crown said while it will pursue charges against four men, charges against at least four other men and one woman have been stayed after they agreed to sign peace bonds, which requires they follow certain conditions.

One man, the father of nine children seized by Child and Family Services, said, "It's been a long, lonely year."

Charges against him were stayed Tuesday. He held back tears while describing how he felt.

"To some extent relief, and yet you still think of the others that haven't had theirs resolved," he said.

A leader in the community said it's welcome news. 
A Manitoba Mennonite community's sole teacher told CBC she was relieved Tuesday to learn that child abuse charges against her were stayed after she agreed to enter a peace bond. (Jillian Coubrough/CBC)

"It's a step in the right direction," he said.

The five whose charges have been stayed must still take part in counselling with CFS.

The community's lone school teacher, who learned that charges against her will be stayed, said she was relieved.

"I didn't know when I arrived that I'd have mine [stayed], so it was a happy surprise."

Children not permitted to return home yet

The peace bonds pave the way for their children to be returned to their families — eventually.

But while the court has cleared the way, CFS will make the final decision on if and when the children return home.

In the meantime, the parents will continue to have visitation rights once a week.

Three other accused community members will be in Winnipeg court Thursday to enter peace bonds as well in exchange for the charges being stayed.

No trial date has been set for the four men still facing child abuse charges.

Those who have signed peace bonds cannot come into contact with the accused, which is a challenge for the small, insular community.