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Documents cast doubt on church position regarding Occupy Toronto eviction

Police may not have power to evict occupiers from Church land

by Justin SaundersGeordie Dent

Toronto Media Co-op presented the evidence from their investigation at a press conference at 4 PM Sunday afternoon (Photo: Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen).
Toronto Media Co-op presented the evidence from their investigation at a press conference at 4 PM Sunday afternoon (Photo: Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen).
Documents obtained by the Toronto Media Co-op prove that church owns the section of the park where the food, medics, media and sacred fire are located.
Documents obtained by the Toronto Media Co-op prove that church owns the section of the park where the food, medics, media and sacred fire are located.

While the City of Toronto is attempting to evict Occupy Toronto from St. James Park, confusion persists around where City land begins and land belonging to St. James Cathedral, the church directly adjacent to the park, ends. However, city land documents and Crown statutes clearly show that a significant portion of the park rests on Church owned property.

The church has previously stated that it will not interfere with any attempted eviction of Occupy Toronto residents, even on property that it technically owns, claiming that its hands are tied by a 1959 land transfer agreement between itself and the City of Toronto governing how the park is to be used. When asked if the city could enforce an eviction order on church property, Dean Stoute of St. James Cathedral stated that: “We have agreements with the City that we work with from the 1959 agreement. In 1959, the cathedral took down its barriers to the park and the agreement governs that. The grounds can only be used for certain falls under the orbit of a City park." However, documents obtained by the Toronto Media Co-op, including the transfer agreement, fail to indicate any such constraint.

The documents, including a 1903 crown statute, a 1959 title deed and a 2003 plan reference document and survey map, clearly delineate the property line between St. James Cathedral and the City of Toronto. Lands to the west of of this line were claimed by the church; lands to the east were transferred to the corporation of the city of Toronto for $2.00. Several structures and tents belonging to occupiers, including the Occupy Toronto media tent, food tent, and sacred fire, reside solely on church property. City police who handed out trespass notices on Tuesday, however, distributed notices to everyone, including those on Church owned land.

If the eviction is approved, Toronto Police Services and City bylaw officers will likely enforce the trespass order under the Trespass to Property Act. The Act, which deals with illegal entry to both private and public property in Ontario, would require a private property holder to request an eviction on its own land.

In a meeting following today's Sunday worship service at St. James Cathedral, camp representatives presented Dean Stoute with copies of the 1959 agreement and the 1903 Act, proving church ownership and control over parts of St. James Park, and asked whether the church would assert their ownership over the land in the case of an illegal eviction attempt. Stoute demurred, reiterating the church's position that it will abdicate responsibility to the court and will allow an eviction on its property. “When Judge Brown rules, we will respect and follow the decision of the court.” The Monday ruling will determine the outcome of an injunction filed by Occupy Toronto last week. It is unclear, however, if the ruling will address the question of land ownership.

In the wake of the meeting, Occupy Toronto decided to go public with the city land documents, in a press conference scheduled for 4:00pm on the steps of St. James Cathedral; occupiers expressed dismay at the intractability of the church's position. “It's a shame that something as powerful as a cathedral still doesn't feel that it can defy the city and the courts in the name of justice and protecting the most vulnerable,” said Taylor Chelsea of Occupy Toronto.

The Media Coop asked Kevin Tilley, a lawyer with the Movement Defence Committee, about the legality of a potential eviction on church property.


TMC: Under the Trespass to Property Act, are police allowed to evict from church property?

Kevin Tilley: No not unless the church asks them to. Without them asking, the police can’t come.

TMC: We've heard that the City has asked people on Church property to leave. Why?

KT: I don't know. It could be that the police just don’t know where the property line is, but I’m just speculating here. It may be that they just gave notices to everyone they could find.

TMC: What would happen if police did evict people on Church property?

KT: Theoretically, the police could be trespassing on church property and the church could ask them to leave. The reality is that they may not know. It's also possible that police may just evict everyone and let the mess get sorted out later.


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The church has always stood

The church has always stood as refuge from the Kings pursuit and sanctuary for the wretched and wronged. So to disavow this now shows that it has lost its value and sides with the patriarch

Where is the Moral Leadership of the Church?

Not very inspiring leadership from the Church, who one would think would support those providing food and shelter to some of the poor.  Perhaps this is why the church has lost a lot of its influence in modern society -- a decay in moral leadership makes it seem just as callous as city government.

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