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Group to appeal its eviction from former St. Brigid’s church

Director William Komer said TUPOC’s goal was to move back into the church and to resume fundraising to purchase the building, as originally planned.

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A group loosely linked to the “Freedom Convoy” movement has filed notice that it plans to appeal the court order that forced its members to vacate a former church in Lowertown.

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The United People of Canada (TUPOC) wants the Ontario Divisional Court to set aside a September judgment by Superior Court Justice Sally Gomery.

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Gomery granted the landlord’s application to terminate the lease with TUPOC for the former St. Brigid’s church on St. Patrick Street.

Gomery ruled TUPOC had breached its agreement and also awarded $58,000 in costs to the landlord, a numbered company represented by Patrick McDonald.

TUPOC has filed a notice saying it intends to appeal Gomery’s ruling to Divisional Court. No court date has been set.

The organization is completing the documents to finalize the appeal, TUPOC director William Komer said Wednesday.

Gordon Douglas, the lawyer for the landlord, confirmed he had received notice of appeal.

Komer said TUPOC’s goal was to move back into the church and to resume fundraising to purchase the building, as originally planned.

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Komer said the organization wouldn’t be deterred by the “violence and hatred” among some of those who protested against TUPOC and its “embassy” in the historic building.

“We won’t cower in the face of the attacks on us.”

Some neighbours and others said they felt threatened by the “Freedom Convoy” supporters at what TUPOC called its embassy.

Last winter’s “Freedom Convoy” protest paralyzed a large portion of downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks. Some residents reported being harassed or intimidated by the protesters.

TUPOC made a $5.95-million offer to buy the former St. Brigid’s church and adjoining buildings last June, according to the agreement of purchase and sale filed in court.

The agreement allowed TUPOC to rent the church and part of the adjoining rectory for $5,000 a month until the sale was finalized.

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St. Brigid’s had been operating as an arts and cultural centre, but operations were forced to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic and the building was put on sale.

TUPOC moved into the church in June.

Komer said the embassy was open to all and TUPOC advertised discussion groups and held weekly barbecues.

Its website describes TUPOC as a “diverse, intergenerational fraternal organization” that hosts community events, fundraises for “global causes and local community enrichment projects” and has the goal of “making the world safer, kinder and more accessible.”

The TUPOC embassy became a hangout for people associated with the “freedom movement.”

Anti-TUPOC protesters kept vigil in a park across the street with picket signs. There were shouting matches and conflict for weeks. Ottawa police regularly assigned officers in squad cars to monitor the scene.

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At one point in August things turned surreal. Komer sat on a chair on the church steps wearing a home-made crown and holding a sceptre while TUPOC supporters squirted protesters with giant water pistols.

TUPOC also announced it had created a private security force to patrol the former church property and would initiate private prosecutions for trespassing and other offences.

The landlord said in court documents that TUPOC failed to pay the rent, but Komer disputed that.

The landlord sent a bailiff to post an eviction notice on the church on Aug. 17. When the bailiff returned the following day, TUPOC supporters blocked him from changing the locks on the building, accused him of trespassing and called police.

The two sides ended up in court in September.

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In her ruling, Justice Gomery said TUPOC had breached the agreement of purchase and sale with the landlord by failing to pay a $100,000 deposit due on Aug. 10 despite two extensions.

In its notice of appeal, TUPOC says it is seeking a declaration that the lease with the landlord was not properly terminated. TUPOC is also seeking an order giving it possession of the former St. Brigid’s and monetary damages from the landlord.

The notice of appeal asks the Divisional Court to declare, among other things, that the landlord initiated the eviction action in court on a “fraudulent basis” and “misled the court through false statements,” that the court lacked jurisdiction and that there was a verbal lease between Komer and the landlord that “adapted over time to an evolving situation.”

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The notice filed by TUPOC listed 34 grounds for appeal, including: the court wrongly concluded that landlord Patrick McDonald was a credible witness and that Komer was not; and that the court erred in “finding a number of facts that were not based on evidence and making reference to non-existent evidence in their judgment.”

In Wednesday’s interview, Komer said TUPOC had just opened a  “consulate” in a storefront on Wellington Street in Toronto and also has chapters at its corporate office in London, Ont., in donated space in Prince George, B.C., and at an undisclosed location in Vancouver.

TUPOC is now selling memberships for between $25 and $150 a month, he said.

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