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Mennonite abuse charges stayed

There's optimism for a Manitoba Old Order Mennonite community that's been shaken over allegations of child abuse.

Four community men have had their assault charges dropped and more accused are expected to have their charges stayed later this week if they also agree to sign peace bonds and undergo counselling.

Last year, police charged 15 adults in the community, which can't be named to protect the identity of the children living there, alleging the children were subject to "extreme discipline" and beaten with objects such as leather straps, cattle prods and whips. Child and Family Services (CFS) took all of the children from the community and put them in care. Six children have since been returned to two families, but 36 remain in placements with Mennonite caregivers.

A relieved father of nine who had his charges stayed -- effectively dropped by the court -- on Tuesday said he hopes his community can now rebuild.

"I'm very happy to have the charges resolved, and hopefully that's a big roadblock out of the way to the return of the children," the man said outside a southern Manitoba courthouse Tuesday. All of his children remain in CFS' care.

The four men who signed one-year peace bonds to have their charges dismissed Tuesday did not admit to any criminal misconduct.

One man and two women -- including the lone teacher of the community's one-room schoolhouse -- had their charges moved to Winnipeg court on Thursday, and it's expected they'll also sign peace bonds and have their charges stayed.

"It makes me very happy because I can have contact with my friends again," said the teacher. "It was hard to not be able to teach my pupils and be separated from my friends."

Three women still face assault charges in relation to alleged abuse, but it's not clear whether they'll be offered peace bonds or some other diversion from the court system.

Crown attorney Nicole Roch said she couldn't speak to whether this will speed up the return of children to their homes, as that's up to CFS.

 

-- Brandon Sun

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