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Bailiff says St. Brigid’s Church occupants are now ‘basically squatting’ | CBC News

The bailiff who taped an eviction notice to the doors of St. Brigid’s says The United People of Canada (TUPC) need to leave the church immediately and the building’s locks will soon be changed.

Locks at the Rectory Art House next to the church were swapped out on Thursday, so only the owners of the property and the artists who rent from them can access it.

“There is no lease anymore. Now they’re basically squatting,” said Dave with Cease Bailiff Services. “That won’t last very long.”

CBC has agreed not to use Dave’s last name given the tensions at St. Brigid’s and the harassment he faced while delivering the notice.

The bailiff first visited the building with a locksmith on Wednesday evening, along with police, but said supporters of the organization were “up in arms,” so they left to deescalate the situation.

They returned Thursday and managed to change the locks at the art house, where 10 artists rent space.

A person holds the inside of a lock.
One of the renters at the Rectory Art House holds the old front door lock for the building after it was changed Thursday. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Dave said he will return to change locks at the church, but declined to say when that will happen. He urged TUPC to “be honourable” to the landlord who owns and pays taxes on the building, and leave.

“They’re belligerent and they don’t want to leave there, but they’re going to. They have to go,” he said of the group.

“This is serious. You’re not just going to overtake somebody’s building in Ottawa.”

Eviction notice says group owes $10K in rent

The notice taped to the church doors appears to have been taken down, but the pages were still in place inside the art house door on Thursday.

It said the landlord had terminated the lease effective Wednesday 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.

In a statement emailed to CBC Wednesday night, one of TUPC’s directors, William Komer, alleged 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.”

During an interview outside the church Thursday morning, Diane Nolan, another TUPC director said Komer had been looking after 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 said.

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

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

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.

Church up for sale again

Komer did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday. People at the church told CBC he was not in Ottawa.

He previously said TUPC had agreed with the building’s owner on a conditional sale of the property, but attempts by CBC to contact the church’s owner to verify this were unsuccessful.

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. CBC has been trying to reach McDonald for weeks.

The real estate agent on the $5,950,000 listing also did not answer questions about the situation, hanging up shortly after a CBC reporter identified themselves during a phone call Thursday.

However, an email shared with CBC by a different real estate agent shows the property as “back on the market.”

Neighbourhood association breathes sigh of relief

Eryn O’Neill, an artist who rents space at the Rectory Art House, said it’s her understanding the agreement with TUPC had fallen through and the property is once again for sale.

WATCH | Eviction of group at St. Brigid’s means a return to normal next door, artist says

Eviction of group at St. Brigid’s means a return to normal next door, artist says

Eryn O’Neill, an artist who has a studio in the Rectory Art House next to the church, says she’s looking forward to getting back to normal after the landlord posted a notice evicting The United People of Canada from the property over unpaid rent.

The artist said TUPC’s activity at the site had picked up in recent weeks, leading to more disruptions and some supporters “confronting us in the parking lot.”

“It’s been a little bit harder to come to work and feel as secure as we used to,” O’Neill said, adding she’s glad the locks have been changed as the group’s members had started using the garages behind the house and coming into its common areas.

“We’re secure now,” she said.

The Lowertown Community Association had urged the city to step in to stop the sale and either buy the building itself or help someone local take it over.

Sylvie Bigras, president of the association, described the eviction as “good news” for the neighbourhood.

“There’s a bit of a sigh of relief,” she said. “We’re hopeful that they will follow through with the eviction.”

She said St. Brigid’s is “breathtaking” and the association has ideas for ways the property could be used as a community centre.

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