Controversial group creates 'private security force' to guard former church
TUPC's move 'incredibly concerning' for Lowertown residents, community association says
A controversial organization operating out of a historic Ottawa church has set up what it calls a "private security force," saying it was necessary because police weren't responding to its concerns quickly enough.
The United People of Canada (TUPC) said it has identified people it claims have committed crimes targeting the group, and is prepared to "ensure the rule of law is upheld within our lawful authority," according to William Komer, one of its directors.
However, Komer wouldn't share details about whether the force will be made up of outside contractors or the group's supporters.
"The exact security force, who's involved, we're keeping that completely private," Komer said Tuesday.
Security and investigative agencies in Ontario must have a valid licence, but the Ministry of the Solicitor General, which oversees them, said it hasn't heard from TUPC about its force.
"The ministry can confirm it has not had any contact with this group and is not aware of any plans this group may have for a private security force in Ottawa," a spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC.
Community association raises concerns
Meanwhile, some community members are questioning why a private security force is necessary.
"For them to talk about a private security force, some residents have said, 'Is this a militia?'" said Sylvia Bigras, president of the Lowertown Community Association. "It's incredibly concerning."
Komer said there's no plan for vigilante justice or a militia, just a "lawful security force."
An Aug. 4 Facebook comment from the organization said it plans to create a "sizeable security force," and that it had "commissioned" its first member to "stand guard."
Security agencies in Ontario have to comply with the Private Security and Investigative Services Act. They must also have an agency licence and can only hire licensed staff. Failing to comply with the act can result in fines up to $250,000 and one year of imprisonment, the province's website states.
The ministry "does not currently have a security guard agency application from this group," a spokesperson said in an email to CBC on Tuesday.
TUPC is in the process of buying St. Brigid's, a former church and arts centre in Lowertown.
Police service inadequate, TUPC claims
According to a statement from the organization, the force will be made up of licensed security guards, special constables or paid duty police officers, licensed private investigators, private prosecutors and a community liaison team.
"The private security force is already operational," Komer said Tuesday. It will be paid for through community contributions, and the group is also considering contracting it out to other organizations or businesses, he added.
"From our perspective ... we're not receiving adequate police service," Komer said, explaining the force will "ensure protection of this property, our members, and participants at various events and functions."
Asked what issues TUPC has encountered so far, the director said one of their banners had been taken, some of their flags had been stolen and the property had been vandalized. On Tuesday the word "cult" could be seen in faded spray paint out front. Members of the organization have also received death threats, he said.
Komer was unable to recall the exact number of police reports the group had filed, but called it a "considerable amount" since TUPC has only been at St. Brigid's for a short time.
Despite providing information to police, Komer said investigators have "not been moving fast enough, for us, with respect to dealing with these criminal acts."
In a statement to CBC, Ottawa police said it has four reports from the group's St. Patrick Street address on file, though those may not include recent complaints made online.
The service will continue to "investigate reported incidents at that address and community safety concerns," it read.
Members of the police neighbourhood resource team met with TUPC last weekend to discuss mischief and threats at the property, as well as the security force.
Police said they understand the force will consist of a licensed security guard to "look out for the property" around the clock, and noted officers spoke to the organization about the legalities of private security.
The impending sale of St. Brigid's, which TUPC calls "The Embassy," isn't sitting well with some in the community. The Lowertown Community Association has called on the city to step in and either buy the heritage property itself, or provide funding to a local organization to do so.
Community members have also raised questions about possible links to this past winter's Freedom Convoy.
Komer has flatly denied any connection to the protest. However, one of TUPC's directors has shared posts appearing to show support for the convoy on social media, and a second described herself as an adviser to Dwayne Lich, the husband of convoy leader Tamara Lich.
The group began hosting "community conversations" about the convoy this week. Wednesday's session is an open mic event with Brian Derksen: The Trucker That Never Left, the group's Facebook page shows.
According to a post on Monday, the talks are sponsored by a website called Vaccine Injury Awareness. The post says TUPC is looking forward to bringing a variety of community members together for the events.
However, it also states that if TUPC feels someone is being disrespectful they may be asked to leave immediately. If they don't, "they may be subject to arrest without warrant under the powers granted to The United People of Canada by the Trespass to Property Act."
Komer said no such arrests have been made so far.
Bigras, head of the community association, said she doesn't see how TUPC's message of being an inclusive organization that's open to talking can be reconciled with its security force and mention of arrests.
"They're issuing threats is what they're doing," she said. "When somebody threatens you, it doesn't exactly make you ready to have a positive conversation."