02/03/2014 15:05 EST | Updated 04/05/2014 05:59 EDT

Ontario court to rule on fate of 14 Lev Tahor children

An Ontario judge will decide today if a Quebec court ruling which ordered the return to Quebec of 14 children in the Lev Tahor sect will be upheld in Ontario. 

Around 200 members of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community fled their homes in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts last November in the middle of the night, amid an investigation by Quebec social services into the well-being of several of their children.

A Quebec youth court ordered the return of the children from three families after they had left Quebec. The Ontario decision will determine if the Quebec order will be upheld.

The group has argued the move was planned and not made in reaction to the youth protection investigation.

Home-schooling, well-being of children questioned

Sect members say they left Quebec due to conflicts with the government over their school curriculum.

They have said that home-schooling in Ontario offers parents much more freedom to teach what they want, and the group wants to stay there.

However, social workers who had been involved with the community in Quebec testified that the group’s departure was hasty and shocking.  

They had a meeting with the group planned for the day after they packed up and moved.

Officials from youth protection in Quebec’s Laurentians region said there were concerns about the children's health, their hygiene and shortcomings in their home-schooling.

Social workers also testified in Quebec youth court that they were concerned about the age at which some of the young girls in the group were allegedly married off and also about reports of intimidation by the community’s leaders. They also told the court about some reported incidents involving children being given melatonin, a purported natural sleep aid, to control their behaviour.

None of those allegations have been proven in court.

Members of Lev Tahor have denied allegations of child neglect, and say they are raising their children in accordance with their beliefs.

If today’s Ontario court ruling sides with the youth protection agencies involved, the order could be applicable immediately.

The three families named in the Quebec court order would be affected by the judgment.

The families’ lawyer, Chris Knowles, said if the court sides with the youth protection agencies, there would be a 10-day appeal period in the application of the order.