Controversial Calgary preacher incited violence in Coutts, prosecutor alleges at bail hearing

RCMP have laid charges under Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defence Act against a controversial street preacher who is being blamed for extending the blockade at the Coutts border crossing.

Alberta judge to issue bail decision next week for Artur Pawlowski

Artur Pawlowski, pictured during his arrest in Calgary in May 2021, has been arrested again. This time he is accused of inciting protesters at the Coutts border crossing. (Artur Pawlowski TV/YouTube)

RCMP have laid charges under Alberta's Critical Infrastructure Defence Act against a controversial street preacher who is being blamed for extending the blockade at the Coutts border crossing.

Artur Pawlowski of Calgary was arrested Monday after he gave a speech last week at the Smugglers Saloon in Coutts, where protesters have been blocking travel to the United States on and off since Jan. 29.

Although the situation is ever-changing, as the bail hearing took place Wednesday afternoon, traffic in both directions was impeded as protesters continue to demand an end to vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, as well as the lifting of other pandemic-related public health restrictions.

Pawlowski is charged with two criminal offences including mischief over $5,000 as well as interrupting the operation of essential infrastructure in a manner that renders it inoperative. 

Since his arrest Monday, Pawlowski's supporters have raised $26,000 for his release and legal fees.

On Feb. 3, protesters made a deal to leave the border crossing and head to Edmonton. 

That day, Pawlowski gave what prosecutor Steven Johnston called an "impassioned" 20-minute speech to protesters. He told them not to give up and said there were not enough RCMP officers to deal with the situation.

"Less than two hours after reaching a deal to end the blockade and take it to Edmonton, truckers changed their minds," said Johnston in arguing Pawlowski should be denied bail. 

'An overt threat to violence'

A video of the speech posted online shows Pawlowski telling the crowd that "for freedom to be preserved, people must be willing to sacrifice their lives. This is our time."

"If this is our Alamo, then so be it," he said. 

Johnston called Pawlowski's words an "overt threat to violence."

"After the speech, Mr. Pawlowski got into his BMW and drove to Calgary, leaving the protesters behind," said the prosecutor.

Bail decision next week

Details of Pawlowski's alleged crimes come from a bail hearing that took place in Lethbridge on Tuesday before provincial court Judge Erin Olsen, who reserved her decision after hearing submissions from Johnston and defence lawyers Chad Haggerty and Sarah Miller. 

Protesters have been at the land border for 12 days with on-and-off blockades, making travel between the United States and Canada impossible at times. 

The blockades have stranded travellers and cross-border truckers and cost millions of dollars in trade.

But Haggerty argued his client is not responsible for the blockades.

"At no time did [Pawlowski] tell them to block the roads, he told them to remain and protest," Haggerty in arguing for his client's release.

Maximum penalty is 6 months in jail, $10K fine

The RCMP has not yet responded to a request for information on whether Pawlowski is the first person to be charged under the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act in connection with the Coutts protests.

The new legislation is controversial and has been criticized as unfairly targeting Indigenous people. 

The legislation was introduced in Alberta in 2020 against the backdrop of protests involving the blockade of rail lines, commuter train routes and roadways in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs' opposition to the construction of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline through their northern B.C. territory.

The act allows for penalties and jail time for anyone who blocks, damages or protests at "essential infrastructure."

If Pawlowski were to be convicted, he could face a fine of up to $10,000 plus six months in jail.

'Ink not yet dry' on previous police contact

Artur and Dawid Pawlowski, pictured just before one of their arrests in Calgary. They have since been convicted of contempt. (Artur Pawlowski/Facebook)

Pawlowski has been in trouble with police throughout the pandemic, at times being arrested within days of his release on other charges. 

"The ink was not yet dry," said Johnston of Pawlowski's arrest Tuesday after being charged with causing a disturbance at a Shoppers Drug Mart within the last several weeks.

Last month, Pawlowski and his brother were arrested after a protest outside the health minister's house in Calgary. They were charged with breaching a judge's order that restrained them from attending any illegal public gathering.

Last May, the brothers were charged with organizing an illegal in-person gathering, inciting or inviting others to attend an illegal gathering, as well as promoting and attending the gathering.

In October, a judge fined the brothers and put them on probation. 

As part of their probation conditions, the judge ruled that if the pandemic-denying, anti-mask leaders continued to preach to their followers, they must also present the perspective of medical experts. The Court of Appeal of Alberta later temporarily blocked that order.