Lev Tahor, ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, quietly moves to Guatemala

Most of the families belonging to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor in Chatham, Ont., have moved, one by one, to Guatemala in the midst of a custody battle with Ontario and Quebec over alleged child abuse.

Of the 200 sect members, only half a dozen families remain in Chatham, Ont.

Members of the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, some of whom have been involved in a bitter custody battle with child protection services, began leaving Chatham, Ont., for Guatemala in March and have now been joined by most of their sect. (Dave Chidley / Canadian Press)

Most of the members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor have moved from Canada to Guatemala amid allegations of child abuse.

Of the nearly 200 members of the sect, a half-dozen families remain in Chatham, Ont., where the group has been based since November 2013. The members left in Canada include some of those who have been involved in a custody dispute with the region's children's services authorities for several months.

Radio-Canada's sources said the bulk of the families began leaving Canada one by one starting in June to join some of the members involved in the custody battle who had left for Guatemala in March.

The sect picked up and moved to Chatham from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., last November after Quebec's youth protective services (known by its French acronym, the DPJ) initiated steps to remove 14 of the children. One of the children was a mother to a young child herself.

Case workers at the DPJ's department in nearby St-Jérôme, Que., alleged that some of the children experienced physical punishment, had poor hygiene and were not being educated according to the province's curriculum.

At Quebec's urging, Chatham-Kent Children's Services picked up where the DPJ left off.

Families left Canada in March

In February, an Ontario judge upheld a Quebec ruling that ordered the 13 children who were part of the original group involved in the dispute with DPJ but did not include the young mother to be surrendered to child welfare authorities.

The sect appealed the decision.

In March, 12 of the children involved in the custody dispute and six adults left Canada on two separate flights: one group of nine flying through Mexico City, and the other group of nine travelling through Trinidad and Tobago.

The group travelling through Trinidad and Tobago were intercepted by immigration authorities and returned to Canada. The group travelling through Mexico City arrived safely in Guatemala, where they remain.

The young mother and her child were stopped at the Calgary airport and returned to Ontario, as well.

In April, Lev Tahor members won their appeal of the February ruling ordering the return of the children to Quebec.

Representatives of Lev Tahor have always vigorously denied all allegations of child abuse.