A Toronto judge has ruled the congregation of the North Buxton church can remain on the property until the matter of who actually owns the church and land is settled in court.
Lawyer for the North Buxton congregation, Steve Pickard, said the news is good for the local group.
“The judge has ruled that the BMEC in Toronto cannot evict the congregation in North Buxton until all the matters between them which have been raised in the claim for title and damages in Chatham have concluded,” Pickard said in a statement to the media recently. “This is a significant win for the Buxton congregation. They have won the right to stay in their church until the matter of who owns the church is properly dealt with. BMEC sought to evict them immediately.”
A $2 million lawsuit was filed July 31 against the British Methodist Episcopal Church (BMEC) in Toronto by Pickard who took on the case pro bono after he heard the BMEC told the church community they had to rejoin the main church or vacate the property. An option to lease the property was removed before the church was able to respond.
As previously reported, the claim documents state that the BMEC either names the North Buxton Community Church as “true owners of the property,” remove themselves as trustees over the property, or that they pay the North Buxton Community Church $1.5 million for the amount they put into the property since they broke with the BMEC in 2003, plus $500,000 in damages.
The Bethel Congregation started the church in the Buxton Settlement (formerly Elgin Settlement) in 1866 and was made up of people escaping slavery in the United States via the Underground Railroad.
In his statement, Judge Nakatsuru said due to the complexity and number of the issues involved in the case, he felt the matter should be dealt with under one legal proceeding and acknowledged the issue is about more than money and land.
“The issues raised are important to both parties. There is a long history in this piece of property. It is not just about money or who owns what. The resolution of these issues will have significant impact on the lives of members of the congregation and on the spiritual needs of real people. As an aside, though not relevant to my decision per se, I observe that it is unfortunate that despite the best efforts no doubt of all involved, this could not have been settled to the mutual satisfaction of everyone, in keeping with the principles of faith of the church and its members,” Nakatsuru said in his written submission.