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Social workers searched frantically for Lev Tahor children, newly released documents show

Members of the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect walk down a street in Chatham, Ont., March 5, 2014.

Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press

A London, Ont., court has released documents that shed new light on the panic and confusion that ensued when social workers found that 14 Lev Tahor children embroiled in a child-protection case had fled the country with their parents just days before their families were to appeal an apprehension order.

In the document, one social-worker describes an odd silence around Spurgeon Villa when he arrived on March 4 to check on three families belonging to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish group.

Home to dozens of Lev Tahor families, the Chatham, Ont., cottages were usually a hive of activity, with children peeking out windows and parents in black garb hustling from house to house.

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On this day, everything was quiet. Social workers with Chatham-Kent Children's Services saw movement in only six of 16 houses.

It was an early indication that three families under a court order to remain in the Chatham area had fled.

A transcript of court proceedings from March 5 details two frantic days when social workers slowly learned that 14 children they were set to apprehend had left Canada for Trinidad and Guatemala.

The apprehension order had been deferred pending an appeal from Lev Tahor scheduled for March 5.

The transcript covers an emergency motion brought by Chatham-Kent Children's Services on March 5 to seize the 14 children immediately. The agency's lawyer, Loree Hodgson-Harris, said the families had violated a court order by fleeing the Chatham area, placing their children at risk of harm.

"This is the second time in a very short period where these children have been uprooted from their home," she told the judge, referring to a previous migration from Quebec to Ontario. "I am sure they're horrified by having to be moved again in secrecy as such they are being moved in various locations."

Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton eventually agreed with the lawyer's argument after several witnesses described how they came to realize the families were gone.

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One social worker, Ted Heath, told the court he arrived in the community at 2 p.m. on March 4 to remind the families of their court date the next day. He found their houses empty and he said he was barred from entering the community's school.

Staff at the child-welfare agency tried contacting community leaders, but got no response.

Only three days before, Mr. Heath said, the three families assured him that they would be in court on March 5.

Chatham-Kent Police Detective Gabe Tetrault testified that he received a call on March 4 from a Canada Border Services Agency office in Kingston, Jamaica, telling him nine Lev Tahor members were being refused entry at an airport in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

"[Our] information was that they were being refused entry at that time because they had one-way tickets and they couldn't explain why they were there," Det. Tetrault testified. "So they were being sent back to Canada, however, the group refused to get on a plane and come to Canada."

He said he had information suggesting the five other members flew to an unknown destination.

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Justice Templeton said she had no "less intrusive alternative" than to order that the children be apprehended immediately.

Community leaders have vehemently denied the accusations against them.

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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