Future of group in St. Brigid's Church in question after possible eviction attempt

The United People of Canada's future in a Lowertown church is being called into question after what appears to have been an attempt by St. Brigid's owners to evict their tenants on Wednesday evening.

Ottawa police says it was called to keep peace in 'dispute between the landlord and tenant' Wednesday evening

Several vehicles bearing Freedom Convoy-related decals remained in the St. Brigid's Church parking lot Wednesday night after an apparent eviction attempt earlier in the evening. (Falice Chin/CBC)

The United People of Canada's future in a Lowertown church is being called into question after what appears to have been an attempt by St. Brigid's owners to evict their tenants on Wednesday evening.

A bailiff, Ottawa police and a locksmith attended the scene Wednesday night, as well as curious residents and supporters of The United People of Canada (TUPC), which raised eyebrows after setting up what it calls The Embassy inside the deconsecrated church earlier this summer, and raised eyebrows again when it set up its own "private security force" earlier this month.

In an emailed statement Thursday morning, Ottawa police said they were called at about 6:20 p.m. "as part of a dispute between the landlord and tenant. This was a civil court matter and police were called to be present and keep the peace.

"There were no further incidents to report."

In a notice posted on the door of the Rectory Art House next door to the church, the landlord gave notice that the lease was terminated effective Wednesday for $10,000 in unpaid rent and failure to provide 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.

Group calls eviction 'unlawful'

In a statement emailed to CBC Wednesday night, one of TUPC's directors, William Komer, alleges the owners of St. Brigid's tried 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."

On its Facebook page, TUPC wrote that it has "honoured all of our rent obligations at the time they were due," and that it believes the owners "made false claims ... to try to justify an eviction."

A stone church with bright red doors and red flags bearing symbols of white trees.
The doors of St. Brigid's Church have been painted red, and banners bearing a white tree insignia hang on either side. Diane Nolan, a director of The United People of Canada, said the 13 leaves represent each of Canada's provinces and territories. (Pierre-Paul Couture/CBC)

'Potential sale' details unclear

Details of the arrangement between the church's owners and TUPC are unclear. In an interview with CBC earlier this month, Komer said a conditional sale of the church had been agreed upon, but CBC has not been able to reach the church's owners to verify.

Land registry documents show a numbered company traced back to Patrick McDonald, one of the investors who bought the church after it was deconsecrated in 2007, still owns it.

Multiple attempts to reach McDonald have been unsuccessful for weeks.

A statement sent to CBC in late July by Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts — with McDonald listed as the person to contact for more information — described the arrangement as a "potential sale," and said the response to CBC's initial story on The United People of Canada's presence at the church "has been overwhelming."

"It has been an immensely difficult week for Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts and those involved in its work over the last 15 years. It has been dedicated to inclusivity, culture and arts and comments challenging that dedication have been difficult to read and hear," the July 25 statement reads.

"It is the hope of all involved with the Saint Brigid's Centre for the Arts that its important legacy and the work done to establish the location as a stronghold for the arts and the Ottawa community is honoured and continued in the future."

Vehicles adorned with flags and protest stickers in a parking lot.
Vehicles adorned with flags and protest stickers were parked in the parking lot of St. Brigid's Church on Thursday morning. (Sonja Koenig/CBC)

Links to Freedom Convoy

After the incident Wednesday night, TUPC members and supporters streamed updates on social media throughout the night from inside the church, saying they're staying put and that lawyers are involved.

Early Thursday morning, one of them said in a video that nothing else happened overnight.

In recent weeks a handful of Freedom Convoy supporters have travelled to Ottawa to support TUPC, which — despite some evidence to the contrary — has staunchly denied any connection to the Freedom Convoy protest that clogged downtown Ottawa streets for weeks this past winter, only ending after a massive police operation to clear streets.

Vehicles adorned with flags, stickers and signs associated with the convoy are regularly parked in the church's lot; one of TUPC's directors has shared posts appearing to show support for the convoy on social media; another director described herself as an adviser to Dwayne Lich, the husband of convoy leader Tamara Lich; and the group began hosting "community conversations" about the convoy this month, including an open mic event with Brian Derksen: The Trucker That Never Left, according to the group's Facebook page.

A woman stands in a parking lot.
Diane Nolan, a director of The United People of Canada, gives an interview outside St. Brigid's Church on Aug. 18, 2022. (CBC)

People inside church overnight doing 'community watch': TUPC

In an interview outside the church Thursday morning, Diane Nolan, another TUPC director, said "we have the rent and we've paid the rent," which was due Aug. 15, and that proof of insurance was shown to police Wednesday.

"I don't really know all the details, but we have given the rent, as far as I'm concerned. We've tried to give — you know there's been a lot of communication breakdown between lawyers, so that's what's got to be dealt with, really," she continued.

Asked whether people are sleeping and living inside the church, Nolan said they've instituted a "community watch" due to vandalism, in which "we have people circulating and here on shifts" in two-hour segments.

Future of group occupying St. Brigid’s in question after eviction attempt

3 months ago
Duration 3:31
Diane Nolan, one of the directors of The United People of Canada, gave an interview outside St. Brigid's Church on Aug. 18, 2022, after an attempt by the church's owners to have the group evicted the previous evening.

The interview derailed after several people who live in the area started asking questions of the group. It devolved into a heated back and forth between the residents and Nolan, as well as other TUPC members who were recording with their smartphones and asking questions of their own.

After the interview resumed and Nolan was asked if she could see how Ottawans might be disturbed by Freedom Convoy-looking vehicles after the weeks-long protest, she said, "To each his own. Everybody can do what they want to do.… So they can decorate their car the way they want.

"I am so sorry it's caused so many people some problems, but there are more people it didn't cause problems to," she said of the convoy.

"Why can't someone who decorates their car make a difference? It doesn't mean they're less than; like, that's discrimination," she said.

With files from David Fraser, Dan Taekema and Sonja Koenig