An extreme ultra-Orthodox Canadian community, Lev Tahor (Pure Heart), has fled the province of Quebec to head for Iran, Yeshiva World News reported on Thursday, but the group was intercepted en-route.
Unnamed Canadian sources told YWN that the group, who live in Ste. Agathe-du-Mont in the Laurentian mountains, consists of approximately 40 families.
Recently, the group has had fears of social services taking their children into custody due to reports of violence within the community, which is known to the Canadian government as an “ascetic cult.”
According to reports, Canadian police detained members of the anti-Zionist group, who confirmed their destination was Iran.
Many of the families, from which the majority are of Israeli origin, are believed to be residing in Canada illegally, and pressure from their Israeli relatives reportedly led to investigation of the community.
Since Canadian officials began to probe the legal status of the families, the group apparently decided it best to abandon their homes on Tuesday and board three buses to Ontario, where YWN says they rented rooms. There were approximately 200 community members aboard the vehicles.
Statements from detained members of the community said that Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, the community's leader, is known to punish fleeing members with violent abuse, YWN says.
Although many members have been found to be illegal residents, Helbrans is considered a refugee. In 2003, he was apparently granted refugee status by the Canadian government after claiming his life was being threatened in Israel.
Originally an Israeli, Helbrans was convicted in the United States for kidnapping a Bar Mitzva boy he was tutoring in 1994, and served a two-year prison term before reportedly being deported to Israel in 2000.
The 1994 court-case drew media attention in the US when Helbrans reportedly convinced New York prison authorities to make an exception to their regulation that prisoners be shaved for a mugshot upon entering. Instead, the prison agreed to accept a computer-generated image of what he would have looked like clean-shaven.