POLITICS

Some old-order Mennonite children will be back with parents within weeks: lawyer

10/04/2013 05:48 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
WINNIPEG - About half of the 40 children seized from an old-order Mennonite community in Manitoba could be back with their parents by the end of the month, a lawyer for some of the families said Friday.

The children were taken by social workers in June after 13 people in the orthodox community were charged with child abuse — including alleged assaults using cattle prods, whips and leather straps.

Five couples, who have a total of 19 children, were in a court hearing Friday that was closed to the media. Afterward, their lawyer Paul Walsh said Child and Family Services has agreed to a timeline that will see all of his clients' children returned by Nov. 1.

"I think we have a clear commitment from the agency and a clear timeline," Walsh said.

"It's taken far too long and the children will recover, I hope ... but one has to be pleased today."

One of the parents told reporters he is hoping to see his two children soon.

"Seeing is believing, I guess, but we've had a lot of delays," the man said.

"Last time we had a visit, (my son) saw our horse and buggy and we let him sit on the buggy ... but when the social worker wanted to take him back to the van again, then he had to cry again because he had his hopes up. He thought we were going home finally."

The lawyer for the family services agency would not comment outside court.

Only one of Walsh's clients is facing an assault charge and it does not involve a family member, Walsh said. He represents primarily younger families. All their children are under nine years of age.

As part of the agreement reached Friday, Walsh's clients are to have social workers visit their homes and check on the children. The parents have also agreed to follow guidelines as to how they can interact physically with their children and other conditions.

Walsh said his clients did not assault their children and accused social workers of going too far in seizing dozens of kids from the community.

"My clients insist that there's nothing that they have done that doesn't, in the past, conform with what they're being asked to do."

The other families are represented by a different lawyer and there is no word yet on when they might get their children back. None of the assault allegations has been proven in court.

The identities of the children are protected under a publication ban. The Canadian Press is not naming the accused or the small community where they live.

Old-order Mennonites shun modern conveniences, including electricity and cars, and adhere strictly to Biblical teachings. While most believe in corporal punishment, those who know people in the community say they are inherently non-violent.

Jay Rogers, the CEO of Manitoba's general family services authority, has said social workers were justified in removing the children.

The seizure did not result from any cultural misunderstanding, but from specific allegations, Rogers said last month.