The sign at the door in Hebrew read: “Welcome in the name of God.” Below that were the words “Talmud Torah,” meaning the study of Torah.
Behind that door about 100 boys as young as five and as old as 13 were holed up for most of the day after police raided the ultra-Orthodox Jewish school Wednesday, that appeared to be operating in the building that once housed the Dimitri furniture warehouse on Parc Ave. at the corner of Beaubien in the Rosemont—La-Petite-Patrie borough. More than a dozen social workers entered the school, and were inside for several hours.
Alex Werzberger, a spokesperson for the Hassidic community of Montreal, said youth protection officials arrived at the school in the morning asking questions about the names of the students and the subject matter being taught.
Werzberger said he spoke with someone in the school who explained that police were keeping the students inside the school on a virtual lockdown while lawyers from both the school and the youth protection department discussed the issue.
“I don’t think it’s very democratic,” Werzberger said.”Maybe they are there for good reason, but it seems strange to me to lock down a whole school.”
According to Werzberger, the school has been operating for about a year. He didn’t know the school’s official name.
A board member of the school who spoke to reporters at the end of the day would not give the name of the school, nor would he provide details about what it taught.
He said the school had been in contact with youth protection prior to the raid, and didn’t see why social workers forced themselves inside.
“Our lawyers intervened, and with agreed with (youth protection) that they will visit us in the coming weeks,” said Hershber Hirsch, who identified himself as a board member of the school. “We’re certainly not happy with the trauma caused to the kids which was not in anyway necessary given our co-operation, but we will always co-operate with them in the future.”
Earlier, two police officers escorted a group of 11 women and one man, several of whom are Batshaw Youth Services social workers, from the building. One of them was holding a cardboard box, another a plastic shopping bag, and another had a red folder. They walked to an adjacent parking lot and left in several cars.
About an hour later, others, appearing to be officials of youth protection, also left the school. About 50 elementary-aged boys boarded a school bus about 2 p.m., while roughly 20 teenaged boys walked out of the school about 1:30 p.m.
“I can’t tell you much, because the Youth Protection Act has very strict rules regarding confidentiality,” said Claire Roy, a spokesperson for the West Island Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux, which manages youth protection services in the sector. “We can’t comment on a precise case, but information may follow when it is available.”
Bryan St-Louis, a spokesperson for the ministry of education said the school in question is not registered as a teaching establishment that instructs under the Quebec school curriculum.
He said it is a religious school, and parents whose children attend it have the obligation to ensure they are taught the Quebec curriculum, either through tutors or by home schooling.
Werzberger said youth officials told school administrators this is the first in a series of schools they plan to raid. Another school on Parc Ave. was also raided on Wednesday, he said.