Ottawa church eviction hearing postponed for group with suspected ties to ‘freedom convoy’

A group some believe has links with this winter’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ will be able to stay in a contested, deconsecrated Ottawa church for at least a couple more weeks.

A Friday morning eviction hearing for The United People of Canada (TUPOC) was adjourned until Sept. 19, due to the group arguing they weren’t given sufficient notice for the hearing.

TUPOC brands itself as a “diverse, intergenerational, fraternal organization” focus on building “strong families and communities,” and denies having links to the convoy.

The group moved into the former St. Brigid’s Cathedral, which they began calling an “embassy,” in Ottawa’s Lowertown neighbourhood earlier this summer. Quickly, fierce community resistance grew amid questions about possible links between some members and the convoy that blockaded the streets of downtown Ottawa for three weeks earlier this year, leading to hundreds of criminal charges and arrests in a major police operation to clear the convoy out.

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Over recent weeks, the future of the St. Brigid’s building has been unclear after the property owners served a notice of intent to evict TUPOC from the premises on Aug. 26, prompting an ongoing legal fight.

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TUPOC board member William Komer argued in court on Friday that the group did not receive adequate notice for the eviction hearing because the group’s corporate address is in London, Ont. — not Ottawa.

Komer said because the eviction matter is being heard in Ottawa, the Commercial Tenancies Act requires three days’ notice, plus an additional day for every 20 miles the respondents address is from the source of the complaint.

Justice Sally Gormery said that while digital communication allows for quick communication regardless of distance, the letter of the law says at least 20 days’ notice for a hearing is required in this instance.

However, Gormery imposed several conditions on the group when she agreed to adjourn proceedings until Sept. 19.

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Among them, TUPOC members must not harass or impede the bailiff from performing their duties on the property, TUPOC cannot impede other tenants or their customers/clients from parking on the property, and they must allow contractors on site to work on the church’s boiler with 24-hour notice.

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A former rectory on the property now includes space for artists, a dry cleaner and a lawyer’s office according to a member of the property owner’s group, Patrick McDonald.

“I have lots of tenants down there that have been, as well documented, harassed which I hope effective today with the judges decision and direction that they will stop their harassment, and give them the parking they have previously agreed with me as tenants,” McDonald said to journalists outside court on Friday.

“The water pistol brigade has to stop,” McDonald said.

Komer and other members of TUPOC have patrolled the property and used what they call “unconventional rounds” to repel supposed trespassers. These “unconventional rounds” are sprays from water guns.

Komer denies all allegations of harassment, saying he and TUPOC’s members have not broken any laws.

“The owner of the building told us [the other tenants] didn’t have a right to the parking spaces, and that’s correct, but not they’re making a different statement which we understand to be perjury,” Komer said on the parking issue after court.

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When the parking issue was raised in the hearing, Justice Gormery read a lease agreement submitted by McDonald saying all tenants have a right to park on the property. Komer says he has a recording of one of the property owners contradicting this, which he plans to submit as evidence.

On Aug. 17, a bailiff attempted to post a termination of the lease, but was met by resistance from TUPOC supporters on the premises. The bailiff returned the next day and posted the notice, which says the group owned over $10,000 in rent and had not produced evidence of having $5 million in liability insurance.

Komer says this is an unlawful eviction attempt. Despite being asked several times outside court whether TUPOC had paid their rent, Komer did not give a straight answer, instead saying they had the money and accused the property owner of obstructing fundraising attempts to pay for the property.

McDonald’s attorney, Gordon Douglas, says as far as they are concerned there will be two grounds for eviction once the hearing resumes on Sept. 19: the original failure to pay rent, and 30-day notice period for failure to make a previously agreed upon purchase deposit on Sept. 10.

“So I expect on the 10th of September or the 11th of September, there’ll be a second notice of termination posted on the door by the bailiff, and that will be pursuant to a failure to make the deposit,” Douglas said.

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The building is currently back on the real estate market, listed at $5.9 million.

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