Alberta appeals court overturns contempt penalties for pastor, brother and cafe owner

A Calgary-based street pastor, his brother and a cafe owner, all of whom flouted public health restrictions for months, have had their contempt of court penalties overturned by the Alberta Court of Appeal.

Pastor Artur Pawlowski of Street Church Ministries, his brother Dawid Pawlowski and Christopher Scott, owner of the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror, Alta., were sentenced in October 2021 by Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Adam Germain.

They were found in contempt of court for violating COVID-19 health rules in June 2021, related to the enforcement of an injunction granted a month earlier to Alberta Health Services (AHS).

All three were fined, put on probation and ordered to present the views of medical experts if they continued to give public speeches critical of COVID-19 public health rules.

On Friday, the appeals court struck down the speech provisions included in the three orders and reversed the penalties against Scott and the contempt findings against the two Pawlowskis, which also caused the penalties to drop.

The appeals court accepted the argument that the order did not apply to the Pawlowskis and did not adequately reflect what they were doing in May 2021.

A central Alberta cafe was at the center of a months-long battle over the enforcement of COVID-19 health restrictions last year. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Sarah Miller, a partner at JSS Barristers who represented the brothers, said that although the Pawlowskis can be “somewhat abrasive” at times, she argued that the Court of Queen’s Bench judge made the decision on the based on a disagreement with what the Pawlowskis were doing.

“Rather than the proper legal analysis, does the order apply, and if so, what is the appropriate penalty?” said Miller.

“They don’t endorse the Pawlowskis in any way, which is not what we were asking. But they concluded that AHS did not obtain an order that applied to the Pawlowskis.”

The Pawlowski brothers had appealed the contempt findings and penalties, while Scott had only appealed the penalties.

At the time of sentencing, Germain said the trio were “on the wrong side of science” and the “wrong side of common sense”, and that all three had “encouraged others to doubt the legitimacy of the pandemic”. .

The panel also ordered that the fines paid by the Pawlowskis be refunded and that the Pawlowskis’ costs, set at $15,733.50, be paid by AHS to the brothers.

Pandemic orders

The Pawlowskis had held large maskless gatherings for religious events in Calgary throughout the pandemic. The Whistle Stop Cafe also operated for months in defiance of public health orders.

This incident was not the first time Artur Pawlowski faced legal issues amid the pandemic. Sometimes he was arrested days after his release on other charges.

WATCH | Calgary street preacher, brother arrested:

Calgary street preacher brother arrested

Artur and Dawid Pawlowski were arrested on May 8 after flouting public health restrictions for months by holding large religious gatherings indoors, without masks, in Calgary despite the pandemic. (Video: Artur Pawlowski TV/YouTube)

In January, the brothers were arrested after a protest outside the home of the Minister of Health in Calgary. Artur was later charged with incitement to violence during the blockade at the border crossing in Coutts, Alberta.

Scott, the owner of the cafe, argued in his appeal that the penalties imposed on him were excessive and disproportionate and violated his rights under the charter. He also argued that the speech provisions were not requested by AHS, which the court agreed to.

The panel said it agreed that those provisions should be struck down, writing that a sentencing judge for civil contempt, such as a sentencing judge, “should alert counsel before imposing a penalty that exceeds or is materially different from that sought by the other party and allow counsel the opportunity to address the proposed sanction.”

He added that Scott’s three days in jail, coupled with other punishments, was enough to reflect the seriousness of his violation of the injunction. He set a $10,000 fine and eight months of probation, already served, as new penalties.