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Freedom Convoy-affiliated group being evicted from Ottawa church

The owner of a historic church in Ottawa's Lowertown neighbourhood is evicting a group with ties to the 'Freedom Convoy' occupation planning to purchase the property this fall, in an apparent dispute over unpaid rent for the facility.

A "Notice of Termination of Tenant" notice on the front door of St. Brigid's Church on St. Patrick Street says the landlord has terminated the occupancy of the United People of Canada under the Commercial Tenancies Act, and the locks will be changed.

The notice says the landlord has terminated the lease, effective Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, as a result of "arrears of payment of rent in the amount of $10,000" and "failure to provide proof of liability insurance in the minimum of $5 million." Another notice on the door says the tenants are in violation of the Ontario Heritage Act and failed to obtain necessary permits for construction under the Ontario Building Code Act.

Early Thursday evening, a resident with a speaker played the songs "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam and "Happy Trails" across the street from the church.

The United People of Canada have said they are in the process of purchasing St. Brigid's Church on St. Patrick Street, with plans to turn it into an "Embassy." The historic church has been for sale for over a year, with an asking price of $5.9 million.

The group is calling the eviction notice "unlawful."

We believe there's been a breach on the Ontario Human Rights Code by the owners of the property," TUPOC Board of Directors member Dianne Nolan said. "We had to involve the police. Of course, there are people out there who like to cause trouble against us, and they have to live with themselves."

The bailiff returned to the church on Thursday morning after initially visiting the church the day before to issue the notice of termination. Several Ottawa police cruisers were spotted outside St. Brigid's Church early Wednesday evening to assist with a dispute between the landlord and tenant.

"At approximately 6:20 p.m., officers were called to a building located in the 300 block of St. Patrick St. as part of a dispute between the landlord and tenant," Ottawa police said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

"This was a civil court matter and police were called to be present and keep the peace. There were no further incidents to report."

On Thursday afternoon, the locks were changed at the Rectory, where an art studio has been using the space. 

There were several people standing outside the church Wednesday evening when police arrived. Volunteer Patrick Lafleche told Newstalk 580 CFRA the rent has been paid, but noted he had not talked to the owner and the potential buyer of the church.

Newstalk 580 CFRA's Andrew Pinsent said a locksmith was not allowed on site to change the locks and decided to come back on Thursday.

In a statement early Thursday morning, William Komer of the United People of Canada said the attempt to "unlawfully evict" the group was in retaliation for complaints.

"It is our understanding that there was an attempt by the property owners this evening to unlawfully evict The United People of Canada from The Embassy following our raising of concerns regarding what we understand to be breaches of the Ontario Human Rights Code by the property owners, including, but not limited to, what we understand to be unlawful reprisal against us for refusing to discriminate against people based on their creed," Komer said.

Komer claims the group called Ottawa police, "who quickly came to our aid, and an unlawful eviction did not take place."

"The United People of Canada have been, and remain to be, lawfully occupying The Embassy," Komer said.

The United People of Canada's website did not provide any details of the alleged Ontario Human Rights Code violations by the property owner.

"Our Private Prosecution Team is on standby, and prepared to take appropriate legal action if necessary, to ensure that the Rule of Law is upheld, if the Ottawa Police Service is unable or unwilling to enforce the Trespass to Property Act and the Criminal Code of Canada with respect to what we understand to be offences committed against The United People of Canada this evening by the property owners and/or their agent(s)," Komer said. "We understand these to be hate-motivated offences against The United People Of Canada. The Ontario Crown Prosecution Manual indicates that there is a substantial public interest to prosecute hate-motivated offences."

The statement did not say anything about whether rent was paid up, or the pending purchase of the property.

On Thursday afternoon, the United People of Canada and its supporters showed no sign of leaving the property.

"The United People of Canada are going to stay in the church and keep working, that's the consensus right now," said one person.

The Lowertown Community Association has expressed concerns with the group's presence at the church.

"We're concerned about their links to the community, what they're objectives are and establishing headquarters for this organization in our community," Sylvie Bigras said.

Earlier this week, posters opposing the United People of Canada's purchase of the church were put up in Lowertown. The posters point to a Horizon Ottawa petition calling for the city to step in and find another buyer or buy the property, but Horizon Ottawa said the posters were not affiliated with them.

In July, The United People of Canada moved into St. Brigid's Church on St. Patrick Street, saying it planned to purchase the church for its "Embassy." There was red banners hanging from the front of the church.

The largest financial backer for the group is Tony Cuzzocrea, President of Planmar Financial Corp. based in London, Ont.

The TUPOC group has come under fire from some members of the community over support for the "Freedom Convoy."

CTV News Ottawa has reached out to the owner of the property and the real estate agent listed on the sale of St. Brigid's Church for more information about the dispute between the landlord and the tenant and the pending sale of the church.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Katie Griffin and Jeremie Charron and Newstalk 580 CFRA's Andrew Pinsent Top Stories

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