Survival of Old Order community at ‘a critical stage’

To date, only six of 40 children have been returned to their parents

Evelyn Rempel Petkau | Manitoba Correspondent

As the one-year anniversary of the first apprehensions of children from an Old Order Mennonite community in rural Manitoba came and went, new developments emerged that lent an air of optimism to the beleaguered residents.

On Feb. 11, 2014, exactly a year after the first set of 22 children were taken away by Child and Family Services (CFS), all but two of the adult community members facing criminal charges, including assault and assault with a weapon, appeared in court.

Their charges were handled in several ways, reported Peter Rempel, a retired executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba and advisor to this conservative horse-and-buggy commu-nity. “In general, the Crown is planning to proceed with prosecuting four persons, and staying charges and imposing peace bonds which do not require admissions of guilt on the other community members who faced charges,” he said.

In an open letter published in the Feb. 18 issue of the Winnipeg Free Press, he wrote that “we are at a critical stage for the survival of this unique community. What government agencies do in the next several months will significantly determine whether the community will be restored or destroyed.”

Following the laying of charges for offences allegedly committed between July 2011 and January 2013, and the removal of the 22 children, the remaining 18 children in the community were apprehended last June.

“From my vantage point, the community and its adult members have undertaken about as many commitments, initiatives and efforts as they possibly could,” wrote Rempel. “Some parents still need some coaching on best practices for nurturing their children, but it is quite certain that the children would be safe from any mistreatment in their homes at this time and that such coaching would be most effec-tive with the children at home with their parents.”

Over the past year, all the adults have committed to following the requests of CFS, developed their own community safety plan and sought the help of professional counsellors. To date, only six of the 40 children have been returned to two of the families.

With the recent court rulings, there is “considerable gratitude for these measures which stay the prosecution of the numerous charges,” reported Rempel. It “removes one obstacle to the return of their children and permits most community members to have contact with one another.”

However, 34 children are still in CFS care.

“These children will soon irreversibly detach themselves from their parents and their church and community,” Rempel wrote. “The financial resources of the community will soon be exhausted from the costs of trips and lawyers. The parents may soon shift from resisting to grieving the loss of their children. That the parents and leaders are maintaining their composure toward outsiders and their unity among themselves is a testament to the basic health and sound values of the community and to their hold on their religious faith.”

See also:

Old Order Mennonite community in turmoil (July 8, 2013)
Old Order parents asked to take parenting course by MCC Manitoba (Aug. 9, 2013)
Order community waits for children to return (Oct. 23, 2013)
Efforts continue to reunite Old Order families (Dec. 24, 2013)
New school greets returning children (July 28, 2014)
Old Order leader sentenced for ‘child torture’ (Sept. 15, 2016)

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