Trinidad and Tobago was thrust into the international spotlight earlier this month as members of a Canada-based Jewish sect entered the country en route to Guatemala. Immigration officers noticed inconsistencies in the religious group's answers to standard questions and detained them. The government eventually decided to send them back to Canada where the sect is facing a legal battle surrounding issues of child protection.
Pride, a Caribbean news magazine based in Canada reported that Trinidad and Tobago's Attorney General confirmed the deportation:
He said the Trinidad and Tobago government could not breach an order from a competent court in Canada and that failure to send the members back to Quebec could have resulted in diplomatic problems between the two countries…[and] that Trinidad and Tobago could not turn its back to the Court ruling regarding the Child protection order whereby the children would have been handed over to child protection agencies in Canada.
‘The welfare of the children was foremost,’ he said on television, adding that the decision to deport the members of the group came after their appeals of the High Court order to the Immigration authorities were denied.
He said he had been asked to provide legal advice on the matter and that he had informed the immigration authorities that the appeal was not within the time limit included in the Immigration Act and as a result ‘there was no legal basis or justification for the group to remain in Trinidad and Tobago’.
One Trinidadian blogger, Guanaguanare, was interested in the developments. He posted a video that highlighted the Grand Rabbi's message before the group's departure form Quebec, along with a comprehensive list of links to the local media's coverage of the story.
He also checked out the Lev Tahor website, republishing a statement that addressed Trinidad and Tobago's decision to deport the group back to Canada:
Trinidad and Tobago called…Guatemala that agreed to accept the family if they are not criminals. The law in Trinidad expressly allows a person who came from abroad to immigrate to every place in the world, if he is not a criminal.
Having no other choice, and acting against the law, came the Canadian police plane with the Canadian police. When in…history [did] Canada sent a plane that [tried] to end a procedure without a trial?
Finally, the blogger contributed his own commentary:
I have not been able to come to any glib conclusions about Lev Tahor. I think that we have to find the pieces of the puzzle, even the untruthful ones as they are also instructive. The fairest assessment does not involve rushing to judgement. What I am trying to do for myself at this time is to understand what the group is about by reading what is available online. As with everything else, I have found a spectrum of opinions.
I have too many unanswered questions to be able to move on. What exactly did we do with these people when they were on our territory and asking simply to be allowed transit? The details provided by the media and by officials about what transpired at Piarco International Airport and behind closed doors in the offices of government officials and the Canadian embassy are murky and inconsistent. I know that much was left undisclosed. Who believes that T&T's immigration officials relied solely upon their superior Spidey senses to find the group suspicious? Who believes that these people were not in detention? Who believes that any extraordinary care was given to making them comfortable in a place in which it was never their intention to linger? Who believes that they were given a fair hearing? Who believes that international laws were wrongly interpreted, if not broken?
The blogger expressed concern about the way the members of the sect may have been treated while detained and wondered why they had chosen Trinidad as their in-transit point. He also questioned the widespread perception that the sect was a cult, saying:
Cults, as Tom Wolfe succinctly put it, are religions without political power and that is obviously not a description of Judaism.
But what if you are on the wrong side of that political power? Lev Tahor, has chosen that very path in their strict interpretation of the teachings of the Torah which tells them that they are to submit to being in exile until the coming of the Messiah. They would be classified by us as an ultra orthodox sect within Judaism.
On Facebook, however, the tone of the discussion was very different, with users more concerned about the welfare of the children in their care than the group's rights as travelers in transit, especially since they are facing the courts in their home country. On the Express Newspapers Facebook Page, Josanne Antoine commented:
But ent is ‘child abuse’ they wanted for…y not just deport them all this gallery for what…it have innocent hardworking people who r residing here n getting deported no questions asked…this place really unfair
Is ab time Trinidad make a stand and let Ppl know our country is no yr hide away place when u doing yr crime
Richard K Mason had a different view:
they can be denied entry, I agree…but to return them to their port of origin? can they not just go on to another destination? is there evidence of criminal conduct by these people? Canada saw it fit to permit them to leave, why send them there?
I saw them on Tuesday at the airport and they were freely moving around so the claims their lawyer made are ridiculous…..if they landed in the USA they would have been held in worse conditions. You cannot commit a crime and use our Country to flee…..message sent….go home and face the music…..
On Twitter, commentary primarily consisted of links to mainstream media stories about the group's deportation back to Canada.