Evangelical group focus of child custody fight
Ex-communicated father seeks sole custody of five children
A father who used to belong to a little-known Evangelical Christian group is fighting for sole custody of his five children, who remain in the closed community with their mother.
The father, who cannot be identified, was ex-communicated from The Exclusive Brethren, also known as the Plymouth Brethren, a religious group that bans contact with the outside world.
He currently sees his children every other weekend and every Wednesday, but he told CBC News that he's seeking sole custody because he wants them to be free.
"I want them to have the opportunity to choose their lifestyle rather than having it forced on them," the father said.
The Exclusive Brethren has 40,000 followers worldwide and about 100 in the Montreal region. They have two churches and a government-recognized school in Baie d'Urfé, on Montreal's West Island.
The group believes women belong at home and does not allow its members to be educated beyond a high school diploma. It also forbids socializing outside the community, using the Internet, and going to the cinema.
The 35-year-old father grew up in Winnipeg within the Exclusive Brethren community, but moved to Montreal in 1994 to help build the group's presence in the city. Two years later, he met and married his ex-wife and they had five children. The father said he became increasingly dissatisfied with the religious group, and the control it exerted over its members. He said he worries for his children, saying their lives are decided for them if they stay in the community.
"The court will judge which parent can offer these children the best possible development in their lives," said Marie Annik Walsh, the lawyer representing the father in the custody battle. She added that the question of education will also be a factor.
Earlier this year, the mother requested a court order that the children follow the Brethren's code of conduct when they were with their father, but a Superior Court judge refused.
That same judge, Justice Hélène Le Bel, said the custody trial will look at the role religion should play in the lives of the children.
The case will go before a Quebec Superior Court on Nov. 10.
The Exclusive Brethren have hired three lawyers to argue the mother's case. The community and the mother refused to speak to CBC News, and filed a failed injunction to stop the story from going to air.