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Judge approves eviction order for The United Peoples of Canada

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The United People of Canada, a controversial group that has occupied the former St. Brigid’s church for the past three months, has been ordered out of the historic Lowertown building by an Ottawa judge.

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In a decision released Friday, Superior Court Justice Sally Gomery granted the landlord’s application to terminate the lease of The United People of Canada (TUPOC), a group with links to the self-described “Freedom Convoy” that besieged downtown Ottawa in February.

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She said the terms of the lease were set out in an agreement of purchase and sale: They included monthly rent, starting June 13, and a sizeable deposit due in August.

“TUPOC materially breached the agreement by failing to pay deposits of $100,000 on August 10, 2022, despite two extensions of the deadline granted by the applicants,” Gomery said in her decision, which also awarded $58,000 in costs to the landlord, a numbered company represented by Patrick McDonald.

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Patrick McDonald, owner of the former St.  Brigid's church spoke to the media, Friday, Sept 2, 2022, outside the Ottawa Courthouse.
Patrick McDonald, owner of the former St. Brigid’s church spoke to the media, Friday, Sept 2, 2022, outside the Ottawa Courthouse. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

TUPOC, Gomery said, is not entitled to any relief from the consequences of its actions since it failed to tender the money it was supposed to pay under the terms of the deal.

“It has not come to the court with clean hands,” Gomery said.

McDonald had been trying to evict TUPOC from the deconsecrated church site since Aug. 17, when he dispatched a bailiff to issue an eviction notice. When the bailiff returned the following day, TUPOC’s supporters blocked him from changing the locks on the church, accused him of trespassing, and called the police.

According to evidence presented in court, TUPOC director William Komer signed an agreement to purchase the church and adjacent buildings for $5.95 million. The deal included a provision that allowed TUPOC to rent the church for $5,000 a month until the purchase was finalized in December.

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McDonald testified that he expected the first rent check in mid-June, but did not receive it until July 24 after repeatedly asking Komer for the money.

What’s more, McDonald said, TUPOC failed to pay a $100,000 deposit by the agreed upon deadline of Aug. 10.

In an affidavit, Komer claimed McDonald told him the first rent payment was not due until July 15, a month after the group moved into the church. Komer did not testify at the court hearing.

In court, TUPOC’s lawyer Saron Gebresellassi argued that her client did not breach the deal to purchase the building in a material way, which meant the agreement was still valid.

The judge disagreed.

In his affidavit, Komer claimed that he had bank drafts to cover the required deposits along with a $10,000 check for the outstanding rent. But Gomery noted that Komer did not attach a photocopy of those documents or provide evidence that he had the necessary money or insurance.

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In fact, Gomery said, there was no indication TUPOC was ever in a position to pay any of the initial deposits given its repeated pleas for an extension. It meant, she said, the landlord could have no confidence that the group could pay further deposits or the full purchase price upon closing in December.

“I accordingly conclude that TUPOC’s failure to pay the deposits due on August 10, 2022, was a material breach that entitled the applicants to terminate the agreement,” she said.

TUPOC supporters pack up to leave the former St.  Brigid's Church on Friday.
TUPOC supporters pack up to leave the former St. Brigid’s Church on Friday. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /ERROL MCGIHON
TUPOC director William Komer packs up to leave the former St.  Brigid's Church on Friday.
TUPOC director William Komer packs up to leave the former St. Brigid’s Church on Friday. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /ERROL MCGIHON
A neighborhood resident bids farewell to TUPOC members who were court ordered to vacate the former St.  Brigid's Church on Friday.
A neighborhood resident bids farewell to TUPOC members who were court ordered to vacate the former St. Brigid’s Church on Friday. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /ERROL MCGIHON

Built in 1890, St. Brigid’s Church was sold in 2007 by the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Ottawa to a numbered company.

It was renamed the St. Brigid’s Center for the Arts. A local youth orchestra and other music groups performed at the center, and local artists exhibited their works inside the building. It also served as home to the National Irish Canadian Cultural Centre.

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McDonald said the COVID-19 pandemic shut down activities in the former church and left the owners with about $16,000 in monthly costs. As a result, the property was listed for sale on June 1 with an asking price of $5.95 million.

Komer first met with McDonald in March 2022, and representatives of TUPOC repeatedly toured the building before making a written offer on June 8. A purchase agreement was signed five days later and TUPOC delivered a $5,000 bank draft as an initial deposit.

On June 27, the day a second, $10,000 deposit was due, TUPOC requested an amendment to the agreement that would allow it more time to raise the required money. The landlord agreed, and sent out a new payment schedule.

On July 13, the day before the next deposit was due under that schedule, Komer again requested an extension. The landlord agreed. Under the new terms, TUPOC was to pay $100,000 on Aug. 10.

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Komer asked for another extension of the deadline to Sept. 1, but he did not receive a reply from the landlord, who instead issued a notice that TUPOC was in “material default” of the purchase agreement. TUPOC was given 30 days to vacate the property.

TUPOC supporters were packing up their belongings at the church on Friday afternoon. Director William Komer said they would vacate the building as quickly as they could, but TUPOC planned to appeal the court ruling.

Komer, interviewed outside the church as he loaded containers into a car, said it wasn’t clear to him from the court order how quickly TUPOC had to leave, but he and his supporters were leaving as soon as they could pack up their possessions.

Komer also said he planned to head to the Ottawa Police Service station to file a complaint of perjury against landlord Patrick McDonald.

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McDonald made false statements when he testified at the eviction hearing on Monday, Komer said. “If he had told the truth during his testimony, obviously this (eviction) decision wouldn’t be happening.”

In an affidavit filed in court, Komer said he had verbal agreements with McDonald that TUPOC did not have to pay rent for the first month they occupied the building and could pay the rent due July 15 a few days late.

The conversations were recorded, Komer said in his affidavit.

Gomery had told Komer that any recordings had to be transcribed and submitted as affidavits, which TUPOC did not do by the deadline set by Gomery.

Komer said Friday he now had the transcripts and noted that Gomery had declined TUPOC’s request to delay the eviction hearing until late October.

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In the late afternoon, a handful of neighbors who had been standing in the park across the street from the church gathered to watch TUPOC pack up. One woman held a sign saying, “Go Home Losers”

“We want them gone,” said Heather Cole, another protester.

It’s a challenging neighborhood, with a concentration of homeless people and people suffering from physical and mental illness, Cole said. “Some of them can be aggressive. But I’ve never been scared to go into my own home until these people moved in.”

The only silver lining of TUPOC taking over the church was meeting neighbors who joined the protest, said Cole, who moved to a house near the church in 2020.

“It’s been hard to meet neighbors with COVID.”

With files from Jacquie Miller

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