Quebec cops swoop down on 'Jewish Taliban'

Nachman Helbrans, left, son of Lev Tahor leader Shlomo Helbrans, is shown speaking with another man...

Nachman Helbrans, left, son of Lev Tahor leader Shlomo Helbrans, is shown speaking with another man on the street where a majority of the group settled in Chatham, Ont., Nov. 2013. (DIANA MARTIN/QMI Agency)

Jane Sims, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:07 AM ET

CHATHAM, Ont. — Members of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect want to know why Quebec police swooped down on their settlement north of here Wednesday night, searching two homes.

Shortly after 5 p.m., cars carrying eight Quebec police officers, and two Chatham-Kent cruisers, arrived at the Lev Tahor settlement with two warrants and no explanation about what they were looking for.

Police weren’t saying what the search was for, but sources indicated it was a criminal investigation focused on immigration issues.

Quebec police near Laval, Que., said they can’t comment because it’s a continuing investigation.

Lev Tahor officials said families were sent out into the cold by police while two homes were searched. They said they have nothing to hide and suspect it was more pressure on the part of Quebec authorities to take their children into foster care.

“We are crying SOS,” Lev Tahor director Mayer Rosner said.

“It’s harassment,” said Uriel Goldman, a community organizer. “It’s terrorizing our life.”

Goldman said social workers have constantly visited over the last half year, including during the two months the group has spent in Chatham.

No children were removed from their homes Wednesday and no charges laid.

The Jewish sect arrived in Chatham in November, fleeing their homes in Ste. Agathe-des-Monts, Que., after three families were told Quebec child-welfare officials were going to take them to court.

The sect claims persecution not only by Quebec, but by Israel where they are portrayed as a cult.

Dubbed the “Jewish Taliban” for their stance on Israel and conservative dress, the group follows a strict religious code that forbids most modern conveniences.

The group is anti-Zionist and led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, a controversial figure who doesn’t believe in the state of Israel.

On Monday, the group will learn if the local child-welfare agency can enforce a Quebec order to seize 14 of the sect’s children and send them into foster care.

The raid’s timing couldn’t have been worse, said Chris Knowles, the group’s family court lawyer, adding there was no indication what police were looking for and no one was arrested.

“I just wonder why, if they’ve been here for this long, why is this warrant being executed now?” Knowles said.

He agreed the matters must be serious enough to compel police to drive 800 km from Quebec.

In fact, Quebec police were in Chatham a day earlier, Tuesday, to get two search warrants signed, Chatham Kent deputy police chief Gary Conn said.

He said local police have had no issues with the group.

After the raid, the sect found kids’ immunization records left on the floor in one house along with silver candlesticks, Rosner said, calling everything upended.

The police took many photos, he said.

Rosner said he suspects a Zionist conspiracy aimed at demolishing the sect.

-- With files by Ellwood Shreve


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