TUPC eviction hearing adjourned, but St. Brigid's owner cheers condition barring harassment

·5 min read
Red banners with The United People of Canada logo hang at St. Brigid's. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)
Red banners with The United People of Canada logo hang at St. Brigid's. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)

A judge has granted The United People of Canada (TUPC) 17 more days to prepare for a hearing as the owners of St. Brigid's in Lowertown seek to have the controversial group evicted.

On Friday morning, Superior Court Justice Sally Gomery adjourned the matter until Sept. 19, giving TUPC more time to come up with arguments about why it should be allowed to stay at the property on St. Patrick Street.

In the meantime, Gomery ordered that TUPC members can't harass other tenants throughout the property, can't harass the owners, can't impede parking, can't interfere with bailiffs posting notices, and must allow a company inside to perform maintenance work in a boiler room.

She also ordered that the property owners can't harass TUPC.

Outside court Friday morning after the adjournment, church owner Patrick McDonald said he was "a little bit disappointed that it's been delayed," but was encouraged by the judge's conditions.

"She has said … the water pistol brigade has to stop harassing people," he said, referencing the water guns TUPC has used to spray people — including protesters and journalists — they accused of trespassing.

Alexander Behne/CBC
Alexander Behne/CBC

William Komer, one of TUPC's directors, appeared in court on the group's behalf.

He told the judge TUPC had retained lawyer Saron Gebresellassi, though she wasn't able to attend court Friday.

Gebresellassi did file a notice of appearance asking for the matter to be put off until Oct. 31, arguing that TUPC hadn't been given enough notice under the Commercial Tenancies Act.

The act states a tenant must be given at least three days of notice outlining the facts entitling an owner to retake possession of their property. The act also states a landlord is required to provide one day of notice for every 20 miles (32 kilometres) between the location of the court and a tenant's abode.

While the landlords argued Komer and at least one other director were staying at the church, TUPC's lawyer said their "place of abode" is actually the group's headquarters in London, Ont.

Justice Gomery described the language of the statue as antediluvian — which refers to the time before the biblical flood.

The judge said her reading of the law didn't necessarily align with TUPC's argument, but she was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in the interest of fairness and giving the group adequate time to prepare.

Court documents filed earlier by the landlord state the deal that would have seen TUPC buy the building near downtown Ottawa collapsed because the group failed to make deposits totalling $100,000.

McDonald's sworn affidavit states TUPC did not make three separate payments toward the purchase of the former St. Brigid's Church when they were due on Aug. 10.

That violated the agreement of purchase and sale for the property and, coupled with the $10,000 the group owes in rent and its failure to provide proof of $5 million in liability insurance, entitles the landlord to terminate TUPC's lease, reads the document.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Komer disputed that in court Friday, saying the affidavit contained perjury, which he had reported to police.

He also claimed TUPC had paid its rent.

"All of the money is here available … if they wish to accept it," he said in court.

Justice Gomery suggested he speak with his lawyer.

Komer says TUPC never claimed to have $6M

Komer continued that argument outside court, where he said TUPC had presented the owners with $100,000 in bank drafts but they hadn't been accepted.

"We have an active agreement that they're clearly actively trying to get out of," he said, hinting the group has audio recordings of verbal statements.

A sale agreement dated June 8 — signed electronically by the owners and Komer — shows the site was to be sold for $5.95 million.

The director claimed the "whole deal" for the property hinged on a fundraising campaign.

"At no point did we come to them and say, 'We have $6 million sitting in the bank. We'd like to buy your building,'" said Komer.

Instead, he alleged, the group offered a $5,000 deposit and the owners didn't grant TUPC the access to the space they needed to raise money.

The agreement of purchase and sale included in McDonald's affidavit, which is signed by both Komer and the property owners, does not mention fundraising.

Coming to court with 'clean hands'

Gordon Douglas, the lawyer for the landlords, said that if they were to accept rent now it could mean waiving the notice of termination for TUPC.

The owners of the property are under no obligation to do that, he said.

Douglas pointed to the events at the church since the eviction process began, which include clashes with community members and the bailiff being confronted and blocked from posting notices at the building.

"You have to come to court with clean hands in order to make the argument that you as a tenant should be given relief from forfeiture," he said.

WATCH | Residents sprayed with water gun during confrontation with TUPC

Building owner McDonald's comments Friday were the first time he's directly addressed the situation at the site.

He said he's hopeful the judge's terms barring harassment mean other tenants on the property will be able to use the parking lot again.

"Mr. Komer and his compatriots have said they will arrest me if I come near the site," said McDonald. "As a landlord I find that astonishing."

He maintained the purchase and sale agreement for the property is "over and done with."