Youth protection officials in Quebec say they will continue to work closely with their counterparts in Ontario to ensure the safety of more than 100 children who are part of a reclusive group of Orthodox Jews.
Officials from Quebec’s youth protection agency held a phone conference with Ontario officials Monday afternoon to discuss the Lev Tahor community.
“Youth protection services reiterates its will to collaborate, in any way, to assure the safety and well-being of the children in the community,” said a written statement issued by Quebec’s youth protection department Monday evening.
Members of the group fled to Chatham, Ont. from their community in the Sainted-Agathe-des-Monts, Que. last week after officials showed concern over parental negligence.
The department of youth protection in Quebec, which opened a file on the community months ago, says it’s worried about children educated by the community and not learning Quebec's mandated curriculum.
The 120 children are not taught subjects that conflict with their religious beliefs, such as evolutionary science.
"We are educating our children the way we believe it’s true. We will not educate our children something that we believe is not true," said Nachman Helbrans, who speaks for the Lev Tahor community.
Some of the families were due to appear before a Quebec judge last week for a hearing to ensure child welfare officials had regular access to their children.
But the group, which totals about 200 people, packed up and moved to Chatham in the middle of the night.
Helbrans said the laws on homeschooling in Ontario offer parents much more freedom to teach what they want, and the group plans to stay there.
Youth protection officials are also concerned about the children’s health and hygiene.
Helbrans admits some of the children had a foot fungus and others were sharing toothbrushes, but he said these are minor issues.
"The children of the community is not neglect. The parents are not neglecting," he said, adding that the community was willing to address the matter with youth protection.
Officials in Quebec say they are in talks with child welfare workers in Ontario, and Ontario police are also aware of the situation.
It will be up to Ontario officials, namely Chatham-Kent Child Services (CKCS), to decide whether or not to take action in this case.