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 wilul” 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 flaunted 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.
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.
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.
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, German 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.
A fourth man, Kevin J. Johnston, who is running to become Calgary’s mayor in the October election, faces a similar contempt charge for promoting large gatherings.
His lawyer is to make arguments against a contempt finding on Monday afternoon.
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.
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.