“The group ... aroused the suspicions of our immigration authorities when the young children in their care could not be accounted for properly, as they were not being accompanied by their parents or legal guardians,” Trinidad Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, told CBC News.
Some members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, originally from Quebec, fled Canada last week to head for Guatemala — but they were intercepted in transit in Trinidad.
Ramlogan said officials grew suspicious after asking the group more questions.
“The group was travelling to Guatemala, but did not speak Spanish and could not properly account for the reason and purpose for their visit to Guatemala, and far less, the duration of their stay.… In addition, they could not explain what was the purpose of their trip — either in transit to Trinidad or to Guatemala."
Ramlogan said this caused officials to think the children’s safety was at risk.
“These are matters — given the international concerns about child labour, child prostitution, the harvesting of organs from little children and, of course, human trafficking on the whole — that would be of obvious concern to any serious immigration and border protection agency,” Ramlogan said.
Border agents prevented the group from continuing their travel to Central America and contacted Canada’s Justice Ministry.
“They were trying to ask Canadian authorities what were the facts,” Ramlogan said.
That’s when authorities in Trinidad learned that some Lev Tahor members were subject to a child protection order that was issued in Quebec.
They also learned of a pending case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, where last month an Ontario court ruled to uphold a Quebec’s court’s decision that 13 children be placed with foster families.
“I do not know if they wished to return to Canada to have the decision in that appeal, but it would seem that they were attempting to go to Guatemala indefinitely,” said Ramlogan.
Lev Tahor turns to legal system
According to Ramlogan, the group faced immediate deportation, but they contacted a lawyer and filed an application under the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago to be freed from the immigration authority’s jurisdiction.
That application was dismissed, so the members of Lev Tahor filed an appeal, which Ramlogan said was done past the 24-hour deadline.
“In this case, they filed almost five days after they were notified of the rejection — because the group was immediately notified by the immigration officer on duty that they were going to be denied entry into Trinidad and Tobago,” Ramlogan said.
According to Ramlogan, the six children and three adults were accompanied by three police officers on a private chartered plane back to Canada.
“There was no formal basis or legal justification to support their presence in Trinidad and Tobago, and they were therefore returned to Canada.”
Ramlogan says the case has garnered international attention, and he’s been getting comments, messages and phone calls from people all around the world.
“I think this is a group that has attracted widespread controversy and attention, and their short stay with us in Trinidad and Tobago is one that has been very colourful,” Ramlogan said, adding that authorities in Trinidad acted appropriately.
“We are very concerned about the international image of Trinidad and Tobago. The group was treated decently and in a humane manner and we extended all courtesies and hospitality that one could extend in the circumstances, once the group was in our care.”
Ramlogan said he will keep in touch with Canadian authorities.
“We are interested to know what was the result of our efforts, and also on a humanitarian and compassionate level, what was the outcome,” he said, adding that he wants to continue to maintain good relations with Canada.
“Trinidad and Tobago takes pride in the fact that it shares very strong relations with Canada. We want to ensure that this sends the right signal that Trinidad and Tobago is the wrong place to try to use as a springboard for any form of suspected illegal activity or any form of evasion of lawful jurisdiction and authorities in any country.”