Child protection officials in Quebec mishandled reports of child abuse within the fringe Jewish sect Lev Tahor, a provincial report said.
In November 2013, about 250 Lev Tahor members fled the town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal, to avoid a hearing in youth court.
The group was facing allegations of child abuse and neglect from Quebec’s youth-protection department, including corporal punishment, underage marriage, sexual abuse of minors, squalid living conditions and the forced ingestion of drugs that pertained to some 130 minors.
The Lev Tahor community settled in Chatham-Kent, outside Toronto, and some families later fled to a small town in Guatemala.
The Quebec Human Rights Commission report, released Thursday, notes many failures in how the province’s child protection system handled the case.
Commission official Camil Picard said delays were “incomprehensible,” considering that it took 17 months for youth protection officials to seize the children after problems were first identified.
It also took school board officials 15 months to get proper schooling for the children in the community, The Montreal Gazette reported.
“Other considerations” than the well-being of the children were made priorities, commission president Jacques Fremont told a news conference. “Clearly, youth protection interventions regarding the children of this community did not fully respect the principle of the child’s best interests.”
The report also recommended better coordination between youth protection officials, the courts, and other authorities to act when children are threatened.
“This must not happen again,” Fremont said. “Our role is to provide Quebec with a wakeup call, and that’s what we’re doing. We dearly hope this will not happen again.”