Kidnapping charges laid in Mennonite assault case

Charges have been laid against two women from a conservative Mennonite community in Manitoba, as well as a man from outside the community, for allegedly kidnapping a 13-year-old boy who ran away from foster care.
Thirteen adults face charges of abuse, based on allegations of children being struck with cattle prods, whips and leather straps between July 2011 and Jan. 31 of this year. (CBC)

Charges have been laid against two women from a conservative Mennonite community in Manitoba, as well as a man from outside the community, for allegedly kidnapping a teenage boy who ran away from foster care.

The two women from the community, along with the man — who is not Mennonite — are accused of abducting a person under the age of 14. The charges include kidnapping and confinement, obstruction of justice, and interfering with foster parents' ability to care for the child.

The charges come after a 13-year-old boy ran away from his foster home.

He, along with dozens of children — all but one of the Mennonite community's kids — were apprehended by child welfare workers earlier this year as part of an RCMP investigation into child abuse.

So far, 13 adults — including the two women — face charges of abuse based on allegations of children being struck with cattle prods, whips and leather straps between July 2011 and Jan. 31 of this year.

None of the accused can be named to protect the identity of the children.

New details of the case emerged at the man's bail hearing on Monday.

"There was a concerted effort to interfere with the Crown's ability to prosecute its case, to have access to witnesses, and [there was] also interference with children in Child and Family Service's care," Crown attorney Rich Lonstrup told court.

"Now the concern is not just the case, but protecting the integrity of the case.… There's concern this could be attempted and repeated with other children."

The two women went missing shortly after they were among those charged with abuse in June. Manitoba-wide warrants were issued for their arrests.

Around the same time, child welfare workers apprehended all but one of the children from the community, including breast-feeding infants.

Shortly after, a 13-year-old boy ran away from his foster home. He returned to his community, but his father told him he had to go back into CFS care.

The father walked him part-way to his foster placement, but the boy disappeared.

"They found a letter in the chicken coop. He apologized to his father for not listening but said he just couldn't go back to his foster placement," Lonstrup said.

Teen, women found in Saskatchewan

The boy was discovered last week near Yorkton, Sask., in a home rented by the non-Mennonite man charged with his abduction.

The two missing Mennonite women were also living there. One of them, a 24-year-old, had broken her engagement with a man from the community and married the man sheltering her.

"The community is in shock. They considered [the man] to be a friend and didn't know he had taken [these people] out of the province," Lonstrup said.

In another twist, the man also arranged for a woman from the community to give birth in Yorkton.

The woman told police she was afraid that child welfare officials would seize her newborn. The baby was born on July 10 and registered under the man's name.

Lonstrup said at one point, the newborn's mother and the 13-year-old boy asked to return to their community, but the man who was sheltering them said he had consulted with lawyers who said they shouldn't go back yet.

They later discovered the man had not spoken to any lawyers.

The teenager left several phone messages for his lawyer and social workers, who eventually traced him to Saskatchewan.

The man's lawyer, Norman Sims, told court that his client got to know community members through business dealings with them over the past few years.

When the abuse charges were first laid, some of the men could not return to the community, so he let them move into his house. He also helped pay for some of their bail and lawyers' fees, Sims said.

When the man was asked to help the 13-year-old boy, he couldn't refuse — although Sims told court that his client did advise the teen to return to his foster home.

It was also not the man's idea to give the newborn baby his last name, Sims said.

"They [the parents] did that and he was surprised by the idea," Sims said.

"I think he feels picked upon, if I can use that phrase. He's been trying to help people in that community and he got tied into it in this way," Sims later told CBC News.

Community 'perplexed,' says advisor

The man is currently out on bail under strict conditions, including a 24-hour curfew.

The women will be back in court on Thursday, hoping to be released.

"I think the community is perplexed," Peter Rempel, an informal advisor to the Manitoba Mennonite community, told CBC News.

"They haven't had communication with the teenager nor with the people he was with … for several months, so they have trouble understanding what they were attempting to accomplish and why they did it."

Rempel is part of a committee of Child and Family Services (CFS) workers and community members that will meet again on Friday as they inch towards the eventual return of the children.

CFS has requested that all of the 20 parents undergo a parental capacity assessment and each of the 42 children have a psychological assessment.

The parents have already participated in one parenting course and have scheduled another one for next week.

They have also agreed to comply with an 18-point list of conditions given to them by CFS, including the cessation of discipline with instruments, and spanking children under the age of two and over the age of 12.

However, the parents are still only allowed to visit for one hour each week and they must speak English, even to young children who only understand their unique German dialect. Some of the children are losing their mother tongue.

Rempel said the parents are noticing changes in their children's behaviour. At first, they were happy to see their parents and became distraught when they left.

But the children are developing attachments to their foster parents and have become more passive about their parents' visits, Rempel said.

"They sense their children moving away. Each child is processing this long period of separation and acting out differently. It will be a challenge when those children do come back," he said.

"From our history in Canada, what have we learned about the impacts of taking all the children away from a community?" he added. "We can already see the consequences of that."