Bailiff says St. Brigid's Church occupants are now 'basically squatting'

The United People of Canada painted the doors of St. Brigid's red and hung banners bearing a white tree insignia on either side, but the group is being evicted and a bailiff warns the building's locks will soon be changed. (Pierre-Paul Couture/CBC - image credit)
The United People of Canada painted the doors of St. Brigid's red and hung banners bearing a white tree insignia on either side, but the group is being evicted and a bailiff warns the building's locks will soon be changed. (Pierre-Paul Couture/CBC - image credit)

The bailiff who taped an eviction notice to the doors of St. Brigid's says The United People of Canada (TUPC) need to leave the church immediately and the building's locks will soon be changed.

Locks at the Rectory Art House next to the church were swapped out on Thursday, so only the owners of the property and the artists who rent from them can access it.

"There is no lease anymore. Now they're basically squatting," said Dave with Cease Bailiff Services. "That won't last very long."

CBC has agreed not to use Dave's last name given the tensions at St. Brigid's and the harassment he faced while delivering the notice.

The bailiff first visited the building with a locksmith on Wednesday evening, along with police, but said supporters of the organization were "up in arms," so they left to deescalate the situation.

They returned Thursday and managed to change the locks at the art house, where 10 artists rent space.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Dave said he will return to change locks at the church, but declined to say when that will happen. He urged TUPC to "be honourable" to the landlord who owns and pays taxes on the building, and leave.

"They're belligerent and they don't want to leave there, but they're going to. They have to go," he said of the group.

"This is serious. You're not just going to overtake somebody's building in Ottawa."

Linked to Freedom Convoy protest

In recent weeks a handful of Freedom Convoy supporters have travelled to Ottawa to support TUPC, which set up at the church earlier this summer.

Despite evidence to the contrary the organization has staunchly denied any connection to the Freedom Convoy protest that clogged downtown Ottawa streets for weeks this past winter, which only ended after a massive police operation.

Vehicles adorned with flags, stickers and signs associated with the convoy are regularly parked in the church's lot; one of TUPC's directors has shared posts appearing to show support for the convoy on social media; another director described herself as an adviser to Dwayne Lich, the husband of convoy leader Tamara Lich; and the group began hosting "community conversations" about the convoy this month, including an open mic event with Brian Derksen: The Trucker That Never Left, according to the group's Facebook page.

Eviction notice says group owes $10K in rent

A notice taped to the church doors appears to have been taken down, but the pages were still in place inside the art house door on Thursday.

It said the landlord had terminated the lease effective Wednesday for $10,000 in unpaid rent and failure to provide proof of liability insurance in the amount of $5 million.

An attached notice said TUPC is also in violation of the Ontario Heritage Act for changing the appearance of the premises without the written approval of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, and in violation of the Ontario Building Code Act "for failing to obtain necessary permits and approvals for construction works" at the site.

In a statement emailed to CBC Wednesday night, one of TUPC's directors, William Komer, alleged the owners of St. Brigid's tried to "unlawfully evict" the organization after it raised concerns "regarding what we understand to be breaches of the Ontario Human Rights Code by the property owners."

The statement also says church owners are punishing TUPC "for refusing to discriminate against people based on their creed."

During an interview outside the church Thursday morning, Diane Nolan, another TUPC director said Komer had been looking after rent, which was due Aug. 15, and that proof of insurance was shown to police Wednesday.

"I don't really know all the details, but we have given the rent, as far as I'm concerned. We've tried to give — you know there's been a lot of communication breakdown between lawyers, so that's what's got to be dealt with, really," she said.

WATCH | Future of group occupying St. Brigid's in question after eviction attempt

Church up for sale again

Komer did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday. People at the church told CBC he was not in Ottawa.

He previously said TUPC had agreed with the building's owner on a conditional sale of the property, but attempts by CBC to contact the owner to verify this were unsuccessful.

Land registry documents show a numbered company traced back to Patrick McDonald, one of the investors who bought the church after it was deconsecrated in 2007, still owns it. CBC has been trying to reach McDonald for weeks.

The real estate agent on the $5,950,000 listing also did not answer questions about the situation, hanging up shortly after a CBC reporter identified themselves during a phone call Thursday.

However, an email shared with CBC by a different real estate agent shows the property as "back on the market."

Neighbourhood association breathes sigh of relief

Eryn O'Neill, an artist who rents space at the Rectory Art House, said it's her understanding the agreement with TUPC had fallen through and the property is once again for sale.

WATCH | Eviction of group at St. Brigid's means a return to normal next door, artist says

The artist said TUPC's activity at the site had picked up in recent weeks, leading to more disruptions and some supporters "confronting us in the parking lot."

"It's been a little bit harder to come to work and feel as secure as we used to," O'Neill said, adding she's glad the locks have been changed as the group's members had started using the garages behind the house and coming into its common areas.

"We're secure now," she said.

The Lowertown Community Association had urged the city to step in to stop the sale and either buy the building itself or help someone local take it over.

Sylvie Bigras, president of the association, described the eviction as "good news" for the neighbourhood.

"There's a bit of a sigh of relief," she said. "We're hopeful that they will follow through with the eviction."

She said St. Brigid's is "breathtaking" and the association has ideas for ways the property could be used as a community centre.