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property dispute

John Letnik, owner of Captain John's Seafood restaurant and the ship it is housed in, doesn’t intend to leave his property behind.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Captain John's, the former floating restaurant at the foot of Yonge Street, is running out of options to stay afloat, but its owner is not ready to abandon ship.

John Letnik, the captain in Captain John's, owes the city $648,947 in taxes, water charges and penalties, and another $216,871 to the Toronto Port Authority in rent. More than a year ago, the city turned off the water in an effort to get him to move along.

With the aging vessel still docked at the waterfront and no deal in sight, councillors on the city's government management committee voted on Monday to take steps to seize the ship, which no longer has a working engine.

"After five years, after a lot of time, a lot of court action and no one paying the bills, I think we have got to the point where enough is enough," said Pam McConnell, whose downtown ward includes Captain John's waterfront site. She said Mr. Letnik needs to make a decision: "Does he go with dignity or do we fight him to the death. I would recommend to him that he figure out a way to walk off that gangplank and get on with the rest of his life, because Captain John's is no longer."

If council approves the committee's decision, Ms. McConnell confirmed a confidential staff report recommends confiscating the ship as a way to remove it from the prime piece of waterfront, which is slated for redevelopment. The action would be taken under the Marine Act and would be done in a partnership with the Port Authority and Waterfront Toronto.

But after more than four decades, Mr. Letnik said the only way the city will get him off his ship is by force, and when asked, would not rule out chaining himself to the vessel.

"That's my life there. I have been there for 43 years," he told reporters after the committee made its decision. "I am not leaving the boat. I am not leaving the ship."

The Toronto Port Authority has jurisdiction over the water where the boat is anchored, and its lawyer, Mark Richardson, said on Monday it has "first-ranking lien" over the ship for berthing fees. Mr. Letnik also owes licence fees to Waterfront Toronto for the use of the land adjacent to the berth, he said.

Mr. Letnik said he has had buyers interested in the ship, but with only a month-to-month lease from the Port Authority, he cannot reach a deal. He wants a new location for the vessel.

Mr. Richardson said while a number of individuals have toured the ship, it is not clear if any deals will come to fruition, and any sale would need the agreement of all the creditors as well as the owner.

It may be necessary "to proceed with a court-ordered process" in which a marine broker would be appointed to sell the ship for the highest price offered, Mr. Richardson said in an e-mail.

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