Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski is guilty of mischief for encouraging truckers to continue blocking the Canada-U.S. border crossing during a 2022 protest that lasted more than two weeks, a Lethbridge judge has ruled.
Pawlowski was charged criminally and under Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defence Act (CIDA), following a 20-minute speech to protesters in Coutts, Alta.
“Mr. Pawlowski intended to incite the audience to continue the blockade,” said Justice Gordon Krinke in delivering his decision on Tuesday afternoon.
On top of the mischief charge, Pawlowski was also convicted of breaching a release order, as well as wilfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure.
Although Krinke found Pawlowski “counselled other persons to interfere with the use of Highway 4 in a manner which rendered it useless,” he reserved issuing a conviction until a defence’s constitutional challenge has been dealt with.
Lawyers Sarah Miller and Chad Haggarty previously issued a notice to challenge CIDA as unconstitutional.
‘Don’t you dare go breaking the line’
The bulk of the Crown’s case against Pawlowski consists of the video of the pastor’s speech on Feb. 3, 2022, during which he urged protestors to hold their ground.
On that day, protesters made a deal to leave the border crossing and head to Edmonton. In his speech, Pawlowski told them not to give up and said there were not enough RCMP officers to deal with the situation.
“The eyes of the world are fixed right here on you guys. You are the heroes. Don’t you dare go breaking the line,” Pawlowski said in the video.
The protesters ultimately decided to stay and continue their on-again, off-again blockade.
The defence argued during the trial that Pawlowski was expressing his opinion and didn’t incite the crowd to do anything.
Coutts raids lead to arrests
The blockade began in late January 2022 to protest COVID-19 health restrictions. It impeded Alberta’s main U.S. border crossing for more than two weeks.
More than a dozen people were charged in connection with the protests and blockade, including four men accused of conspiracy to commit murder.
Pawlowski was also charged with violating COVID-19 protocols nearly two years ago, but the charges were stayed by the Crown in December.
Weeks before his Lethbridge trial, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Pawlowski spoke on the phone in a recorded call, which was later leaked.
Leaked phone call
While Smith reminded Pawlowski during the call that she can’t intervene directly, she also told him that she is questioning justice officials “almost weekly” about the COVID-related prosecutions.
Smith also promised to make inquiries on Pawlowski’s behalf, telling him “leave this with me” and that the charges against him were politically motivated.
CBC News has received a notice of defamation letter sent by lawyers on behalf of Smith, calling on the media organization to apologize for and retract a story published in January relating to alleged political interference in the justice system by a staffer within the premier’s office.
The story states that a premier’s office staffer sent emails to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service challenging how it pursued cases connected to the Coutts protests.
CBC’s head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson, said in an email statement at the time that “we stand by our journalism on this story and, if necessary, will defend it in court.”