SAINT-JEROME, Que. — Children in a reclusive Jewish sect were beaten with sticks and metal hangers and forced to urinate in Ziploc bags, according to allegations in court documents released Thursday.
Harrowing testimony from a youth-court hearing on Nov. 27 into the Lev Tahor sect emerged after a judge north of Montreal lifted a publication ban.
About 40 Lev Tahor members fled their compound in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que. on Nov. 17 as officials prepared to seize their children.
The group now lives in Chatham, Ont. A judge in Chatham will decide on Feb. 3 whether to honour the Quebec court order.
Lev Tahor, founded by Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans, opposes Zionism and the state of Israel. The group claims that the Torah instructs Jews to remain in exile until the coming of the Messiah.
Documents released Thursday in a court in St.-Jerome, Que., suggest a terrifying world of corporal punishment, bullying and forced teen marriages.
An unidentified former Lev Tahor member told the Quebec court that "hitting was a common practice" to punish young people.
He testified that he was responsible for enforcing behaviour among unmarried young men during prayers.
The man said he struck the youths with a metal hanger if they got out of line.
The court also heard that a wooden stick was placed in every classroom in the community's homeschool.
The man admitted in court to slapping children as young as eight years old on three occasions. He had been instructed to slap the children with an "open hand." He finally decided that he "was not very open to this idea" and left the community with his wife, who he had wed in an arranged marriage.
She was only 15 years old at the time of the wedding and he only learned her name when he signed marriage papers, the court heard.
The courts previously heard it was common for Lev Tahor girls to be married off to older men.
The witness said that while Lev Tahor adults were not beaten, they did suffer other forms of punishment.
Parents who broke the rules had their children taken away from them, said the witness. Leaders also fostered mistrust among members, the court heard.
"The rabbi encouraged everyone to spy on the others," said the former member.
Child-protection officials in Quebec have said they took action amid fears of a mass suicide among the Lev Tahor.
Lev Tahor has long denied the allegations are true.
And the case has since caused jurisdictional uncertainty.
Lawyer Christopher Knowles argues Ontario child-protection authorities don't have the authority to enforce Quebec court orders.
If the Ontario judge rules against Quebec, it will be up to Chatham-Kent Childrens' Services to submit its own application.
- With files from Christian Plouffe, Brian Daly