Group linked to Freedom Convoy remains in Ottawa church after deadline to remove its things

A deadline to remove their belongings came and went overnight, but a controversial group with ties to the Freedom Convoy remains in an Ottawa church.

Residents gathered across the street to see whether TUPC would be forcibly evicted

A small crowd of people gathers across the street from a church.

Midnight has come and gone, and The United People of Canada (TUPC) are still at St. Brigid's in Ottawa's Lowertown neighbourhood.

An eviction notice posted to the deconsecrated church's doors last Wednesday said members of the controversial group linked to the Freedom Convoy had five business days to gather their belongings and leave.

That deadline passed at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, meaning the order can now be enforced at any time.

About two dozen curious onlookers and community members gathered across the street from the building shortly before midnight to see what would happen.

Meanwhile, TUPC members gathered near the building's front steps, some hugging, as the deadline passed with no sign of the bailiff.

TUPC offered popcorn to onlookers 'watching the show'

Lowertown residents said they remain hopeful the group will leave.

"I didn't expect it to happen at 12:01 but I also knew that I wouldn't be sleeping either way, so I came out," said Heather Cole, who lives nearby. "I was happy to find a group of like-minded neighbours here, also just sort of keeping watch."

She said the past few months since TUPC moved in have brought a rollercoaster of emotions.

"The neighbourhood doesn't want any violence," Cole said. "We don't want forcible evictions. We really just want these folks to recognize the reality of the situation … and go away."

Shortly before 1 a.m., TUPC supporters wearing red shirts emblazoned with the group's white tree logo crossed the street holding bags of popcorn that they offered to onlookers, saying they wanted to give them something to eat while "watching the show."

People in red shirts hand out bags of popcorn.

Group staunchly denies existence of eviction order

William Komer, one of the group's directors, was among them. He previously told CBC the group has no plans to leave.

"There is no eviction order," TUPC tweeted around midnight, adding that the group has been "asked, not ordered, to leave."

That contradicts the bailiff, who visited the property last week and said TUPC has to go.

"There is no lease anymore. Now they're basically squatting," he said. "That won't last very long."

A large church lit up at night.

In an interview on Tuesday, Komer said he believes the group has the right to arrest the bailiff for trespassing if he shows up.

The owners of St. Brigid's have not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Locks at the Rectory Art House, which is on the same property, were changed last Thursday so only the owners and the 10 artists who rent studios there can access it.

The eviction notice taped to its door was the same as the one posted on the church, which was removed. It said the landlord had terminated the lease effective Aug. 17 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.

Church owner not accepting rent, group claims

Komer has shown reporters a copy of a bank draft for $5,650 dated July 15 and an original of another draft dated Aug. 15 for the same amount.

He claimed the landlord has refused to accept this month's rent.

He also shared a heavily-redacted piece of paper with the words "certificate of insurance" across the top.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said it couldn't validate the certificate, and that only the issuing broker or insurer can say whether it's legitimate.

But all the broker information is blacked out, making it impossible to verify TUPC's claims. Pressed on this, Komer said he has supplied an unmodified certificate to police but wouldn't share it with CBC.

TUPC has said the owners of St. Brigid's are trying 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."

Onlookers sprayed with waterguns during verbal confrontation

In the early hours of Thursday morning, some TUPC supporters and community members were involved in a verbal confrontation.

Komer and another man in one of the group's red shirts sprayed people with waterguns and later joked about it on Twitter.

"Agents of the People's Security Force (PSF) have successfully deployed unconventional rounds to repel those that were trespassing at night," the TUPC account tweeted. "Trespassers may be soaked ;)."

Agents of the People’s Security Force (PSF) have successfully deployed unconventional rounds to repel those that were trespassing at night at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheEmbassy?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheEmbassy</a>. Trespassers may be soaked 😉 Thanks <a href="https://twitter.com/OttawaPolice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@OttawaPolice</a> for educating the trespassers about the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RuleOfLaw?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RuleOfLaw</a>. We’ve got your six! <a href="https://t.co/enfrkOQNMk">pic.twitter.com/enfrkOQNMk</a>

&mdash;@TUPOC_CA

Chris Grinham was among the Lowertown community members. He said the lack of eviction at St. Brigid's has the potential to become a "PR disaster" for police and the city.

"My hope is this is not postponed long. The neighbourhood needs this to be taken care of. We dealt with so much with the convoy," he said.

"At this point if [TUPC] want to do something good for Lowertown — leave Lowertown."

Ottawa police have described the dispute between the landlord and tenant as a "civil court matter," not a criminal one. It said Monday that officers had been called to the property three times over the weekend, and that the force was continuing to investigate a harassment complaint.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Taekema

Reporter

Dan Taekema is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. He has worked with CBC News in Hamilton, Windsor and Toronto and for newspapers around southern Ontario. You can reach him by emailing daniel.taekema@cbc.ca.

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