15 Sep 2008

Malnourished child taken from mother and father who belong to religious sect that does not believe in institutional medicine

Globe & Mail - Canada
September 15, 2008

Parents arrested after hospital standoff over baby


by Colin Freeze

The fugitive mother of a sick infant was arrested at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children yesterday, as her continued refusal to hand over her child prompted officials to take the parents into custody and admit the child to hospital as a ward of the state.

The erratic behaviour of the 22-year-old woman first made headlines across Toronto last week, as police circulated an urgent advisory saying they were looking for the woman and her malnourished nine-month-old. But the surprising scope of the story became clear only during developments yesterday.

After the couple were arrested during their second run-in with hospital authorities, it emerged that both parents belong to a religious sect that doesn't believe in institutionalized medicine and which claims that government agents have no authority over its members.

"She's not an evil person and she's not a bad mother," her spiritual leader, who goes by the title Grand Sheik Brother Kudjo Sut Tekh El, explained late yesterday afternoon while waiting outside a downtown police station for the couple to be booked. Police have signalled they are planning to lay obstruction charges against the couple.

Wearing a burgundy fez, a matching robe and dreadlocks, Mr. Sut Tekh El explained he knew the parents well and was familiar with everything that had led to the arrest.

According to him, the baby has eczema and severe food allergies, which has left him very skinny. But "we have the rights as Moorish-Americans not to succumb to institutionalized ways of healing ourselves," Mr. Sut Tekh El said. He said members of his sect avoid hospitals and pharmaceutical drugs in favour of natural remedies for all ailments, including cancer.

The Canadian government has no jurisdiction over Moorish-Americans, the religious leader argued, adding the baby should not have been seized by the Children's Aid Society. "It basically infringes on his nationality," he said.

For decades, the U.S.-based Nation of Moorish-Americans has espoused that, thanks to a historic treaty, millions of black Americans are actually a divine and sovereign people, and also citizens of Morocco. The Canadian chapter led by Mr. Sut Tekh El is relatively new, but he said he has about 30 members.

He said it has been about a year since the couple joined the sect. That was around the time their child was born. Early last week, the mother took her child to hospital after a naturopathic doctor urged her to do so.

On Wednesday, medical staff at the Hospital for Sick Children raised concerns about malnutrition as they examined the infant. The baby weighed only 11 pounds - close to a newborn's weight - at the time of the visit. "The hospital said they were going to take her baby," Mr. Sut Tekh El said.

Rather than let that happen, the mother took her baby and fled, police said. The hospital then called police. Toronto police issued a rare public advisory on Friday, circulating an image of the mother, and saying they were urgently seeking her. "Without immediate attention, the child's safety is at risk," police said.

Yesterday, the couple returned to Sick Kids, but once again refused to hand over the baby, police said. This led to a two-hour standoff: Police and doctors urged the couple to give up the baby, while the couple refused.

Around noon, the mother used her mobile phone to text her spiritual leader. "They have ETF here," reads the message that remains on Mr. Sut Tekh El's cellphone.

While negotiators with the emergency task force were called in, the matter was resolved peacefully, albeit with the arrests.

The baby and another child belonging to the couple, a toddler, are believed to have been seized by the Children's Aid Society. The infant's condition is not life-threatening, police say.

Before the standoff ended, the father told CP24 News that officials erred in believing the parents were merely of Jamaican stock, and failed to recognize they were "divine, indigenous Moorish Americans."

He added that his baby was in good health. "His eyes are bright," the father said.

Police identified the mother last week, but identities of family members are being shielded now that the infant has been seized by authorities.

This article was found at:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20080915.MISSING15/TPStory/
National

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