Alberta pastor, brother, café owner guilty of contempt for breaking COVID-19 health rules

·3 min read
Artur and Dawid Pawlowski, shown during their arrest in Calgary on May 8, have been found guilty of contempt for flouting public health restrictions for months — holding large church gatherings indoors, without masks, despite the pandemic. (Artur Pawlowski TV/YouTube - image credit)
Artur and Dawid Pawlowski, shown during their arrest in Calgary on May 8, have been found guilty of contempt for flouting public health restrictions for months — holding large church gatherings indoors, without masks, despite the pandemic. (Artur Pawlowski TV/YouTube - image credit)

Three Alberta men — a Calgary-based street preacher, his brother and a café owner — have been found guilty of contempt for what a judge deemed "deliberate and wilful" breaches of judicial orders requiring them to follow COVID-19 public health rules.

Pastor Artur Pawlowski of Street Church Ministries and his brother, Dawid Pawlowski, along with Christopher Scott, who owns the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., "openly [flounting] the efforts of Alberta Health Services" to keep citizens safe during the third wave of the pandemic at a time when Alberta had the highest COVID-19 case counts in North America, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Adam Germain said in his decision, delivered in Calgary on Monday morning.

The three will face a sentencing hearing next month.

Mayoral candidate also charged

Meanwhile, a fourth man, Calgary mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston, will learn his fate Friday after defence lawyer Ian McCuaig completed arguments in his contempt case late Monday afternoon.

McCuaig presented arguments that to find Johnston in contempt for breaching three different judges' orders would be a violation of his client's Charter protected rights to free speech.

Johnston is in trouble for threatening AHS inspectors in several social media posts, promoting large gatherings and breaching public health orders.

In early May, the Alberta government introduced new measures to try to crack down on repeated COVID-19 public health order scofflaws as cases continued to rise in the province.

Fines for defying public health orders doubled to $2,000 and introduced what Justice Minister Kaycee Madu called a new enforcement protocol to target people not complying with orders.

Two judges issued orders aimed at getting persistent rule-breakers under control.

Criminal charges in 3 provinces

Johnston, who has a history of belligerent and racist behaviour, has repeatedly said that if elected, he is prepared to arm himself and go to the homes of health officials to arrest those who have taken enforcement actions.

He has posted photos of one AHS employee in particular and threatened to "dox" her and others. Doxxing is the practice of posting a person's personal information online, usually against a person's wishes.

Following the threats, Johnston became bound by a restraining order sought by the AHS, preventing him from obstructing or interfering with its employees. One of his contempt charges is in connection to allegations he breached that order.

Johnston is facing criminal charges in three provinces: an assault charge in British Columbia, hate crime charges in Ontario and, most recently, a charge of causing a disturbance in Alberta. He is currently behind bars after being denied bail on June 14 in connection with charges of causing a disturbance and breaching a court order at the Core Mall in downtown Calgary.

AHS inspectors harassed at church

Throughout the pandemic, the Pawlowski brothers repeatedly hosted and promoted large maskless gatherings for church services in Calgary and also denied health officials entry to the church, located in the southeast neighbourhood of Dover.

Attempts by Alberta Health Services (AHS) inspectors to enter the church have been met with abusive language.

Artur Pawlowski was fined last year for failing to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions and has drawn controversy for past comments, such as when he said Calgary's flooding in 2013 was caused by God's tears over homosexuality.

The Pawlowskis were arrested in early May.

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

Around the same time, health inspectors padlocked the Whistle Stop Cafe, which Scott had been operating for months in open defiance of AHS orders to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

On May 8, despite having been served with a judge's order to obey restrictions on public gatherings, Scott decided that "he would participate and incite the crowd" in going ahead with a planned large campout and anti-restriction rally, Germain said in his ruling.

Scott was arrested that weekend.

All three men were found guilty of "openly encouraging gatherings contrary to the rules," the judge said.

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