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Judge approves eviction order for The United Peoples of Canada

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An Ottawa judge has ordered the United Peoples of Canada, a controversial group that has occupied former St Brigid’s Church for the past three months, out of the historic Lortown building.

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In a ruling on Friday, Supreme Court Justice Sally Gomery approved the landlord’s request to terminate the lease of the United People’s Assembly of Canada (TUPOC), a group with links to the “Freedom Caravan” described as the “Freedom Caravan” that surrounded downtown Ottawa in February.

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She said the terms of the lease were set out in a purchase and sale agreement: it included the monthly rent, effective June 13, and a large deposit due in August.

Gomery said in its decision, which also awarded $58,000 in costs to the property owner, a numbered company represented by Patrick MacDonald.

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

“It didn’t come to court with clean hands,” Gomeri said.

MacDonald had been trying to evict TUPOC from the unconsecrated church site since August 17, when he sent a transcript to issue a notice of eviction. When the record returned the next day, TUPOC supporters prevented him from changing the church’s locks, accused him of trespassing, and called the police.

According to evidence presented in court, TUPOC Director William Comer signed an agreement to purchase the church and adjacent buildings for $5.95 million. The deal included a clause allowing TUPOC to rent the church for $5,000 a month until the purchase is completed in December.

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MacDonald testified that he expected his first rent check in mid-June, but did not receive it until July 24 after repeatedly requesting money from Comer.

What’s more, TUPOC failed to pay $100,000 in deposit by the agreed deadline of August 10, MacDonald said.

In an affidavit, Comer alleged that MacDonald told him that the first rent payment wouldn’t be due until July 15, a month after the group moved into the church. Kommer did not testify at the court hearing.

In court, TUPOC’s attorney, Saron Gebriselassie, argued that her client had not materially breached the building’s purchase deal, which means the agreement is still in effect.

The judge disagreed.

In an affidavit, Kommer claimed that he had wire transfers to cover the required deposits as well as a check for $10,000 for rent owed. But Gomery noted that Comer did not attach a photocopy of those documents or provide evidence that he had the necessary money or insurance.

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Indeed, Gomery said, there is no indication that TUPOC was ever in a position to pay any of the initial deposits given its repeated pleas for an extension. That means the owner will not be confident the group can pay more deposits or the full purchase price at closing in December, she said.

“Based on this, I have concluded that TUPOC’s failure to pay the deposits due on August 10, 2022 was a material breach of the applicants’ right to terminate the Agreement,” she said.

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

Its name was changed to St Brigid Arts Center. A local youth orchestra and other music groups played in the center, and local artists displayed their work inside the building. It was also home to the Canadian Irish National Cultural Centre.

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MacDonald said the COVID-19 pandemic shut down activities at the former church and left owners around $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.

Comer first met MacDonald in March 2022, and TUPOC representatives toured the building frequently before making a written presentation on June 8. A purchase agreement was signed five days later and TUPOC handed over a $5,000 bank draft as an initial deposit.

On June 27, the second day the $10,000 was due to be deposited, TUPOC requested an amendment to the agreement that would give it more time to raise the required funds. The owner agreed and submitted a new payment schedule.

On July 13, the day before the next filing under this schedule was due, Kommer requested an extension again. The owner agreed. Under the new terms, TUPOC had to pay $100,000 on August 10.

Kommer requested another extension of the deadline to September 1, but did not receive a response from the owner, who instead issued a notice that TUPOC was in a “material default” in the purchase agreement. TUPOC has been given 30 days to vacate the property.

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