Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Twist in case of seized children

Three charged after missing teen found

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BRANDON -- A case in which dozens of Old Order Mennonite children were apprehended from their Manitoba community over allegations of abuse has taken a dramatic twist.

Two Mennonite women who went on the run and a Manitoba man, described as a friend of the community, stand accused of abduction after being found with a teen who ran away from his foster placement.

Crown attorney Rich Lonstrup said the allegations stem from a bigger plan by the accused to undermine the abuse case and force Child and Family Services to return the children to their parents.

"There is clearly an effort here to interfere with the children in care," Lonstrup told Brandon provincial court on Monday during a bail hearing for one of the accused.

The accused, and the Mennonite community involved, can't be named in order to protect the identity of the children in the ongoing abuse case.

The two women, aged 24 and 22, and the 72-year-old man appeared in a southern Manitoba courtroom on Monday. The women remain in custody pending their next court appearance on Thursday, and the man was granted bail and given a next court date of Sept. 23.

Each is charged with abduction, forcible confinement, obstructing justice and an offence under the Child and Family Services Act. The women also face assault charges in relation to the initial abuse allegations.

Lonstrup described how police first began an investigation in the summer of 2012 into allegations of widespread sexual abuse at the Old Order Mennonite community. The allegations involved a number of children and their parents.

Lonstrup said police determined the allegations of sexual abuse were unfounded. But during that investigation it was discovered many of the adults in the community had allegedly used physical abuse to solicit false allegations of sexual abuse from the children. The scope of the abuse involved almost every family in the community, and CFS apprehended every child under the age of 18 years.

In June, police arrested Mennonite adults accused of physical abuse. At last report, their number totalled 13. The two female accused in question couldn't be found, and Manitoba-wide warrants were issued for their arrest.

The man accused of abduction and obstruction is not a member of the Mennonite community but was considered a trusted friend. He provided a home to two of the Mennonite men who were later charged in connection with the alleged abuse when they were released on bail orders that forbid them from being at the community.

On Jan. 21, one of the apprehended girls went missing from her foster home at the community. Police investigated and the girl was returned by the man, who said he'd driven her to Winnipeg to see a lawyer. He wasn't charged.

Then, on May 26, two other children went missing from their foster placements near Winkler. They were found at the Mennonite community the next day and said they ran away from their foster home and were driven back to their community by the man. Again, it appears no charges were laid.

The man's charges relate to a 13-year-old boy who went missing from his foster placement at the Mennonite community in late May.

The teen was found in a home near Yorkton, Sask., on Thursday with the two fugitive Mennonite women.

-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2013 A7

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