Contempt hearings begin in Calgary for anti-mask organizers of illegal public gatherings

A judge says he won’t make a decision about COVID restriction rule-breakers — which include a local pastor, a cafe owner and a mayoral candidate — until after he has heard all five contempt cases, the first of which got underway Wednesday.

Five contempt hearings set to take place in coming weeks

Artur and Dawid Pawlowski, pictured during their arrest in Calgary on May 8, have been flouting public health restrictions for months, holding large church gatherings indoors, without masks, despite the pandemic. (Artur Pawlowski TV/YouTube)

A judge says he won't make a decision about Calgary COVID restriction rule-breakers — which include a local pastor, a cafe owner and a mayoral candidate — until after he has heard all five contempt cases, the first of which got underway Wednesday.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Adam Germain presided over the first of the hearings involving men accused of organizing gatherings in blatant breach of restrictions.

Lawyers for AHS have argued that Germain, who has been tasked with handling all pandemic-related breaches of judges' orders, should find those charged with contempt guilty.

Street preacher Artur Pawlowski, his brother Dawid Pawlowski, mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston, Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott and pastor Tim Stephens are all accused of repeatedly refusing to abide by public health restrictions and organizing events encouraging others to break the rules as well.

Artur Pawlowski's case began Wednesday. Pawlowski refused to allow an AHS inspector to enter his southeast church.

Throughout the pandemic, Pawlowski has held large, maskless gatherings and denied health officials entry to the church.

In April, AHS successfully sought a judge's order that required him to allow inspectors to check the church for compliance. 

But when the order was served to Pawlowski on April 24, he refused to allow the inspector inside before the service began.

'Violent and abusive language'

Instead, outside the church, the inspector was met with "violent and abusive language" from Pawlowski, according to AHS lawyer Jennifer Jackson, who added the preacher "sent us on our way in a very threatening manner."

But Pawlowski's lawyer, Sarah Miller, argued the entire interaction lasted only two and a half minutes and said her client didn't have a chance to review the order being served on him. 

"We do not deny that the intention was to keep [the inspector] from entering the property," said Miller. 

But she added that Pawlowski provided "reasonable excuses."

Brothers in court together

On May 6, Court of Queen's Bench Justice John Rooke granted an injunction sought by AHS that makes it easier to go after those who organize and promote illegal public gatherings. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Germain heard again from Artur Pawlowski, this time, alongside his brother Dawid. The pair are accused of breaching Rooke's order by organizing and promoting large services in breach of gathering limits, mask requirements and physical distancing rules.

Again, Miller argued the brothers were not properly served with the order and that the injunction didn't apply to them.

Miller said AHS is not seeking compliance, but rather "another tool in their tool kit to punish" those fighting for their civil liberties. 

These are the hearings set to take place in the coming weeks:

  • Artur Pawlowski: May 26 (morning)
  • Artur and Dawid Pawlowski: May 26 (afternoon)
  • Christopher Scott: June 3 
  • Kevin J. Johnston: June 16
  • Tim Stephens: June 16
Supporters gather during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Johnston's threats against AHS

Stephens was arrested May 16 after months of encouraging congregants to break pandemic-related public health rules.

Over the weekend of May 8, Scott was arrested for organizing an anti-mask protest attended by hundreds in the southwest Alberta hamlet of Mirror. 

The same weekend, Johnston was arrested after he promoted and attended three large gatherings.

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. 

Calgary mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston, left, and preacher Tim Stephens, right, were released after their arrests for breaching public health restrictions. (Kevin J Johnston/Facebook, Fairview Baptist Church/YouTube)

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, often against a person's wishes.

Following the threats, Johnston became bound by a restraining order sought by AHS, preventing him from obstructing or interfering with its employees.

Johnston is facing an assault charge in B.C. and hate crimes charges in Ontario.

Last week, the City of Calgary said it wouldn't create a voters list for candidates. The decision appeared aimed at protecting the privacy of Calgarians amid concerns Johnston was set to receive the names and addresses of all voters in the city.