CHATHAM, Ont. - An Ontario judge has issued an emergency order that 14 children from an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect at the centre of a custody case be placed in the care of children's aid, but police said Thursday most of the children have left the country.
Two families whose children were ordered removed from their custody left Canada for Guatemala this week, but some of the travellers were detained in Trinidad and Tobago during a stopover, according to a Lev Tahor member's email to supporters, which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
Immigration authorities in Trinidad met Wednesday with Canadian Embassy officials about the case, said Marcia Hope, a spokeswoman for that country's Ministry of National Security.
A judge in Chatham, Ont., ordered that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in the temporary care of Chatham-Kent Children's Services. The order says the agency can ask for assistance from local and provincial police, Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP and Peel Regional police, whose jurisdiction includes the Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Chatham-Kent police said Thursday afternoon that 12 of the 14 children named in the emergency order have left the country. They said police and child services are trying to locate the remaining two children.
Community spokesman Uriel Goldman said he did not want to speak for those families, but said he suspected they left because they were afraid their children would be taken away from them.
"If any person have kids just going to think one second," he said. "What going to happen if all of a sudden some authorities say, 'Say goodbye for your children...just forget from your kids forever.'"
Goldman called the child welfare investigation — which lasted more than a year in Quebec before it was brought to court there — political persecution.
"We're talking about innocent people, very responsible parents," he said. "They have no case against them, zero case against them, not in Quebec and not in Ontario...It has to deal with the fact our community is a Jewish religious community who is anti-Zionist who do want to be old fashioned and this create a lot of hate."
A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Peter MacKay declined to comment on whether Canada is making any efforts to have the Lev Tahor children returned, saying extradition requests are confidential.
Canada Border Services Agency has said it cannot detain anyone without a search warrant.
One legal expert said any kind of extradition proceedings could only occur if someone faced criminal charges.
Two local police officers and four children's aid workers went door to door Wednesday night in the community of homes in Chatham, hours after the court order was made. Goldman said police were looking for the children at the centre of the court case. He said officers looked everywhere in the small homes, from inside washing machines to freezers.
The police officers and child welfare workers stayed at the complex for about 90 minutes and left around 10 p.m. without apprehending anyone.
A provincial police spokesman said they have not yet received a request for assistance from children's aid in Chatham.
A Quebec court originally ordered late last year that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in foster care after the community of about 200 people left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in the middle of the night, days after a child welfare agency started a court case against a couple of the families.
The community settled in Chatham, Ont., where a judge found last month that their move from Quebec was made to avoi