Youth protection officials from Quebec's Montérégie region have taken custody of 10 children who had allegedly been living with followers of a self-styled prophet of the apocalypse in Arizona.
Marcel Pontbriand, a former businessman from Beloeil, Que, who claims he can heal the sick and perform exorcisms, has been living in Marana, Ariz., with his followers and some children.
He moved to the Marana area after facing a slew of accusations stemming from an illegal investment scheme he masterminded while living in Quebec.
Border services officials intercepted the children in Vancouver on Monday. The children, who were accompanied by two adults, were heading into Canada from the U.S.
It is unclear why the children and the two adults were crossing the border.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Maryse Davreux, the director of the Montérégie youth protection services, confirmed that 10 children between the ages of two and seven were brought to Montreal while two others remained in British Columbia with their father.
"We took care of the 10 children we have right now, we do not currently have contact with the parents, we are waiting for the parents to contact us. We do not know where they are," she said.
Quebec provincial police had issued a warrant to warn U.S. officials of the presence of 14 children they believe resided with Pontbriand.
According to reports, the children in the group had recently been taken away from their parents.
Youth protection services said the children were tired but safe after an overnight flight that landed at Montreal's Trudeau airport around 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Davreux said social services will evaluate each child's situation and determine whether they can return to their parents' care, live with extended family members or be placed in foster homes.
The children will undergo physical and psychological evaluations.
No information was provided about the two adults who were with the children when they arrived in Vancouver.
A few weeks ago, Quebec provincial police signalled the disappearance of a family from Otterburn Park, Que. A father, his two young children and their grandmother were missing.
Céline Archambault, who knew the missing man, has been waiting for her own son and his children to come back from Arizona, where they've been since 2009.
"We don't know what kind of care they have," she said. "Young children like them are at risk of being sick."
According to CBC's French service Radio-Canada, Pontbriand has been fined by Quebec's College of Physicians for illegally practising medicine.
Mike Kropveld, executive director of Info-Cult — an organization that has been tracking Pontbriand's activities — said Pontbriand used to operate as healer and claimed to be able to channel spirits while he lived in Beloeil around 1995.
Kropveld said Pontbriand is a "very charismatic individual" who had people follow him even while he worked in Quebec.
He said the self-proclaimed healer may have about 30 followers.
"At some point, the followers become believers," said Kropveld. "He fits into the mould of a lot of people that talk about the end of the world."
In 2012, Pontbriand pleaded guilty to 24 counts laid by Quebec's financial regulator for illegal investments, illegal brokering and absence of prospectus.
The Autorité des marchés financiers carried out a four year-long investigation following complaints from investors who said they lost money after buying shares belonging to Pontbriand.
Many people came forward saying Pontbriand had sold them shares he had inflated to make more money.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 2013.
According to Radio-Canada, a dozen people with whom he did business followed him to Arizona.