TORONTO (JTA) – Most members of the haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor have moved from Canada to Guatemala amid allegations of child abuse.
Only five or six families numbering about 40 people are left in the Lev Tahor settlement, the London Free Press reported.
Most of the community have made their way to be reunited with other sect members who left Canada for Guatemala earlier this year. Others have gone to the United States and Israel, the paper reported.
“This story is going to end not with a bang, but with a very loud fizzle,” Toronto lawyer Guidy Mamann, who was hired by the group last spring, told the Free Press.
“I think we’re just seeing the last chapter of the Lev Tahor story being written in Canada in terms of their presence here.”
He added: “I don’t think anybody is planning on staying.”
In November, about 200 sect members moved to Chatham, Ont., about three hours southwest of Toronto, after Quebec’s youth protective services began steps to remove 14 of the sect’s children.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s French-language arm, Radio-Canada, reported that the bulk of the families began leaving Canada one by one starting in June to join fellow members involved in the custody battle who had left for Guatemala in March.
Youth protection officials alleged that the children were subjected to physical beatings, poor hygiene, forced ingestion of drugs, underage marriage and violating the province’s school curriculum.
The Lev Tahor have vigorously denied all allegations and say they are victims of a religious smear.
In March, 12 of the children involved in the custody dispute and six adults left Canada on two separate flights: one group of nine flying through Trinidad and Tobago, where they were intercepted and returned to Canada, and another group of nine travelling through Mexico City to their ultimate destination, Guatemala.