'Intended to incite': Calgary pastor found guilty on border blockade charges
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A judge has found Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski guilty of charges related to his role in protests against COVID-19 public health measures in a case that has dogged United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith as she tries to win her party a second term in the May 29 election.
The protests at Coutts, Alta., blocked the province's main border crossing into the United States for more than two weeks in early 2022.
"I am satisfied Mr. Pawlowski intended to incite the audience to continue the blockade … intended to incite protesters to commit mischief," Justice Gordon Krinke said as he delivered his verdict in Lethbridge, Alta., on Tuesday,
Pawlowski was found guilty of mischief and breaching a release order. Krinke said that although there was enough evidence to find Pawlowski guilty of a charge under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, he couldn't record a verdict on that charge Tuesday because the defence has given notice of a constitutional challenge.
In March, the NDP released audio of a January phone call between Smith and Pawlowski in which she is heard offering to make inquiries on Pawlowski's behalf, revealing to him internal government arguments over case direction and telling him the charges against him are rooted in political bias. Alberta's ethics commissioner is investigating the conversation.
Legal experts have said the call violates the democratic convention that there must be a firewall to separate politicians from the day-to-day decision-making of cases before the courts.
Smith has stated it's not OK for politicians and accused persons to discuss active criminal cases, but says her call to Pawlowski was OK because as a politician it's her role to interact and hear from constituents and didn't realize the January call would be about his criminal case and that she thought she would be talking politics with him in his then-role as the head of the fringe Independence Party on Alberta.
Angry supporters of Pawlowski attempted to prevent media from talking to the pastor when he was leaving the court on Tuesday, telling reporters to "prepare to meet thy God" and that they would be judged.
Pawlowski, who announced to reporters after the verdict he is starting his own political party and will be running in Calgary Elbow, said he wasn't ready to talk about Smith, but he would be in about a week.
But he did say he felt he had been lied to.
"She did not only (break) the promise to me, she didn't follow with her promises to all Albertans because before she was elected she was very precise and very clear," Pawlowski said, referring to Smith previously saying she would explore amnesty for pandemic rule-breakers.
He also had a message for Smith.
"I would say 'shame on you for not standing for the little man'. When a politician cannot keep his or her words or promises, that politician is absolutely good for nothing. I think I have more trust in my dog than I do politicians right now."
Crown prosecutors told Pawlowski's trial earlier this year that his impassioned speech to the truckers in February 2022 fanned the flames of unrest and convinced them to stay at the border crossing for another two weeks.
In his verdict, Krinke said the speech to supporters came at a time when many were looking at leaving the border and protesting elsewhere when Pawlowski urged "sacrifice and heroism in support of a just cause."
"Some of the protesters were thinking of leaving. He told the protesters the whole world was watching. He told the protesters not to break the line."
Separately, several people were also charged after RCMP found a cache of guns, body armour and ammunition in three trailers during the blockade, with four men facing counts of conspiracy to commit murder.
Prior to the verdict, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Smith needs to clarify why she spoke to Pawlowski and offered to help him with his case.
“Danielle Smith has to make herself available to speak about her conduct with respect to the Pawlowski case separate and apart from what the courts decide,” Notley told reporters in Calgary Tuesday.
“Albertans are very, very nervous about the extreme nature of Mr. Pawlowski’s views and the fact that Danielle Smith clearly, clearly aligns herself with him.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 2, 2023.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press