Alberta appeal court sets aside contempt sanctions against pastor, brother and cafe owner

·3 min read
Calgary-based street pastor Artur Pawlowski and his brother, Dawid Pawlowski, saw contempt findings against them overturned by the Alberta Court of Appeal on Friday. The court also set aside sanctions against Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott.  (Artur Pawlowski/Facebook, Scott Neufeld/CBC - image credit)
Calgary-based street pastor Artur Pawlowski and his brother, Dawid Pawlowski, saw contempt findings against them overturned by the Alberta Court of Appeal on Friday. The court also set aside sanctions against Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott. (Artur Pawlowski/Facebook, Scott Neufeld/CBC - image credit)

A Calgary-based street pastor, his brother and a cafe owner, all of whom flouted public health restrictions for months, have seen their contempt of court sanctions set aside by the Alberta Court of Appeal.

Pastor Artur Pawlowski of Street Church Ministries, his brother Dawid Pawlowski and Christopher Scott, who owns the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., had been sentenced in October 2021 by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Adam Germain.

They were convicted of contempt of court for breaking COVID-19 health rules in June 2021, tied to the enforcement of an injunction granted a month earlier to Alberta Health Services (AHS).

All three were fined, put on probation and ordered to present the perspective of medical experts if they continued to deliver public speeches that criticized COVID-19 public health rules.

On Friday, the appeals court set aside the speech provisions included in all three orders and set aside the sanctions against Scott and the contempt findings against both Pawlowskis, which resulted in the sanctions also falling.

The appeal court agreed with the argument that the order did not apply to the Pawlowskis and didn't sufficiently capture what they were doing in May 2021.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press
Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Sarah Miller, an associate with JSS Barristers who represented the brothers, said though the Pawlowskis can be "somewhat abrasive" at times, she argued that the Court of Queen's Bench justice made the decision based on a disagreement with what the Pawlowskis were doing.

"Rather than the proper legal analysis as to, does the order apply, and if so, what is an appropriate sanction?" Miller said.

"They're not by any means endorsing the Pawlowskis, that's not what we were asking for. But they have concluded that AHS did not obtain an order that applied to the Pawlowskis."

The Pawlowski brothers had appealed the contempt findings and the sanctions, while Scott appealed only the sanctions.

At the time of sentencing, Germain had said the trio was "on the wrong side of science" and the "wrong side of common sense," and that all three had "encouraged others to doubt the legitimacy of the pandemic."

The panel also ordered that the fines the Pawlowskis paid be reimbursed, and that the Pawlowskis' costs, set at $15,733.50, be paid by AHS to the brothers.

Pandemic orders

The Pawlowskis had held large, maskless gatherings for church events in Calgary throughout the pandemic. The Whistle Stop Cafe similarly operated for months in defiance of public health orders.

This incident was hardly the first time Artur Pawlowski faced legal trouble amid the pandemic. At times, he was arrested within days of his release on other charges.

WATCH | Calgary street preacher, brother taken into custody: 

In January, the brothers were arrested after a protest outside the health minister's house in Calgary. Artur was later accused of inciting violence during the blockade at the Coutts, Alta., border crossing.

Scott, the cafe owner, argued in his appeal that the sanctions applied to him were excessive and disproportionate and violated his rights under the charter. He also argued the speech provisions were not requested by AHS, to which the court agreed.

The panel said it agreed those provisions should be set aside, writing that a judge sanctioning for civil contempt, like a sentencing judge, "should alert counsel before imposing a sanction that exceeds or is significantly different from that sought by the other party and afford counsel the opportunity to address the proposed sanction."

It went on to say that Scott's three days spent in jail, coupled with other sanctions, was sufficient to reflect the seriousness of his breach of the injunction. It set a fine of $10,000 and eight months probation, already served, as new sanctions.

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