Lev Tahor community in Ontario raided by border agency

The Canada Border Services Agency has arrested six members of the Lev Tahor sect over suspected immigration issues, their lawyer says.

6 members taken into custody by Canadian border agents

Members of Lev Tahor moved from Quebec to Ontario in November. Some have since moved to Guatemala. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

The Canada Border Services Agency has arrested six members of the Lev Tahor sect over suspected immigration issues, their lawyer says.

Some families in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect are at the centre of a child custody case, including one family that fled to Guatemala.

A border agency press release said agents executed a number of warrants for suspected Immigration and Refugee Protection Act violations on Wednesday morning.

Border agents went looking for seven Lev Tahor members who had either been ordered removed from Canada or whose status had expired, said the group's lawyer, Guidy Mamann.

Five of those people, as well as one other person who was found to have alleged immigration issues, were apprehended, Mamann said.

The lawyer said he is working with the border agency to make sure the other two people authorities had been seeking comply, he said.

Members of the community told a local radio station that those arrested are Israeli citizens whose visas had expired.

One member of the community told The Canadian Press some of those arrested were American citizens.

They had been working with a lawyer in Toronto to be able to stay in Canada, Blackburn News reported.

Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children's Services, said his organization co-operated with the border agency.

Doig said a number of children have been taken into care after the arrest of the adults. 

The children were all back in the community hours later, being looked after by relatives or alternate caregivers, Mamann said Wednesday evening.

Mamann is also hopeful that some of the adults who were apprehended will be released soon. If not, they must be brought before the Immigration and Refugee Board within 48 hours of their detention while being processed by CBSA.

Mamann, who was meeting with Lev Tahor's spiritual leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans when reached for an interview, said the community was terrified during the arrests.

"It's a frightening experience to look up and see 20-some-odd armed officers going from house to house looking for adults and children," he said.

Mamann, a Toronto-based lawyer who was hired recently, said he is providing a legal strategy for the group, which has been lacking.

"That's why there have been all kinds of difficulties that could have easily been avoided had somebody from the group really understood the legal processes," he said. 

"These people are really fish out of water. They get scared, they run. That's not a legal strategy."

Another lawyer representing a Lev Tahor family removed himself from the case this week. 

About 200 members of the Lev Tahor sect — 114 of them children — settled near Chatham, Ont., last year after suddenly leaving Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que.

A Quebec court ordered late last year that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in foster care.

Child welfare authorities in Quebec alleged issues related to hygiene, health and that the children weren't being educated according to provincial guidelines.

At least two Lev Tahor families left Chatham for Guatemala in March with child custody hearings pending.

Two other sect families with nine members attempted to reach Guatemala but were intercepted in Trinidad and returned to Canada.

Child welfare officials also took two minors into custody after they were apprehended in Calgary and they were returned to Ontario.

The group has denied all allegations of mistreatment.

With files from CBC News