TORONTO (JTA) – Canadian border security officials raided the compound of the fringe haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor and arrested seven members.
According to the local children’s aid society in Chatham, Ontario, about one dozen Canada Border Services Agency officials entered the compound on Wednesday and arrested Lev Tahor members believed to be in violation of immigration laws.
Two families in the Lev Tahor community are at the center of an ongoing child custody case, including one family who fled to Guatemala, the Canadian Press reported.
One Lev Tahor man was seen being driven away in handcuffs, according to the QMI news agency.
“There was screaming, crying and one Lev Tahor man was overheard shouting, ‘Shame on you,’ as he waved his finger at the agents,” QMI reported.
One witness said she saw immigration officials trying to enter a building where Lev Tahor children are believed to be housed.
“I can hear the children crying and praying,” the source said.
Last month, 14 children and several Lev Tahor adults fled Canada ahead of an appeal of an Ontario court order mandating that the children be placed in the care of children’s aid in Quebec. Eight of the children made it to Trinidad and Tobago, where they were taken into custody and returned to Canada. Two more children taken into custody in Calgary also were removed from the sect.
The rest are in limbo in Guatemala, their original destination.
This week, a lawyer for one Lev Tahor family removed himself from the case.
About 250 members of the community fled Quebec last fall just before officials could seize some of the children. Child welfare officials said they had evidence of abuse, squalid living conditions, underage marriages and substandard education.
Lev Tahor members maintain they are being persecuted for their strict religious beliefs.