The number of people charged over alleged assaults against children at a Manitoba Mennonite community has grown to 13.
Children were taken from the community by welfare officials last month after four adults — three men and a woman — were charged with multiple counts of assault, including assault with a weapon.
Court documents allege the assaults took place between July 2011 and Jan. 31, 2013, and involved the use of cattle prods and straps.
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Documents show the youngest alleged victim is less than a year old, and the oldest is 17.
“This is unusual. The size of the community and the number of people charged certainly is a challenge in this type of investigation,” said RCMP Cpl. Miles Hiebert.
Hiebert said the investigation is ongoing, and police are not ready to release many details about the types of charges that have been laid against some of the individuals.
“We work with the evidence that is provided to us. We continue to take statements and collect information, and we’ll work there until this comes to a conclusion.”
A court-ordered publication ban means neither the Mennonite community nor the people charged can be named, in order to protect the identity of the alleged victims.
Paul Walsh, a lawyer who represents five families whose 18 children were taken from the community, said he thinks close to 40 children in total were removed. That represents all of the community's children but one.
He said the families he represents are now in turmoil.
“They are distraught, upset and beside themselves with grief that all of a sudden all of their children — not selected ones — but all of their children have been apprehended and are in care,” said Walsh.
He added it was an unprecedented move by the government.
"I've never encountered a situation — and I don't think there has been one — when all the children [are taken]," he said.
"We are talking about, in the case of my families, all the children are nine years old and younger. Three of the children are two and under and are being breast fed. How can they be in need of protection?"
No one in the five families that he represents are facing charges but the children have all been removed for their safety, child welfare officials have stated.
"They've been taken without access … taken away and kept away from their own parents for a month without any visits and without any contact," Walsh said.
"I have never encountered a situation where a group of similar adherents have had each and every last one of their children, no matter of what age, apprehended. That's never happened in Manitoba before and I don't know where else it has ever happened in Canada.
"I think that they should be dealt with individually and if there are protection issues for some, that aren't protection issues for others, they should be individualized rather than apprehended as a group.
"They feel that they have been horribly treated as a group rather than as individuals."
Lost court bid to return children
Walsh lost a bid this week to get the children back home to the families he represents.
He argued in court Wednesday they should be returned to their parents because the visitation order, imposed after the children were seized, was too vague. It doesn't say how often the parents can see them.
Since the children were taken, only one set of parents has seen their kids, he said.
"Some [of the adults are doing] better than others, but all of them not particularly well. They're devastated," said Walsh.
The court order stated that access in a supervised manner was to be determined "and my argument was that the phrase 'to be determined' doesn't give frequency or timing of visits," Walsh said.
The judge threw out Walsh's application, saying more visits will be arranged.
The next hearing in the case is set for Aug. 7.