When last we saw Artur Pawlowski, he was spreading COVID misinformation and chasing public health officers out of his church with harrowing shouts worthy of The Exorcist.
The next place we see him might well be a court of law.
The Calgary preacher, alongside his brother Dawid Pawlowski, was taken into custody over the weekend after yet another church service without basic pandemic precautions in place. The Calgary Police Service says they have charged the pair with organizing an illegal in-person gathering and “requesting, inciting, or inviting others” to take part.
It’s not hard to see why the Pawlowski brothers might have felt they were above the law. Despite the police presence during Easter weekend’s public health inspection, Artur was able to successfully resist, as he bragged to his congregation during an Easter homily that likened public health inspectors to the Gestapo and the Egyptian slavers in the Book of Exodus.
But police powers have shifted on the ground in Calgary as COVID spread continues, with one in ten Albertans testing positive for the virus and record-setting ICU admissions reported as of Sunday. The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says nearly half of Alberta’s active cases involve variants of concern.
The state of affairs led Alberta Health Services to (successfully) seek a Court of Queen’s Bench Order, imposing additional restrictions with a particular emphasis on protest organizers. People in Alberta remain free to protest COVID laws all they like, but they’ll do so while observing physical distancing, attendance limits, and mask use, or they’ll find themselves in violation of the law.
The Order also expands enforcement options available to police. Consequently, the same officers who meekly walked away in April are now able to ticket, fine, arrest, and charge anyone who chooses to violate public health orders by organizing or attending any gathering where proper precautions aren’t observed.
Those powers can’t come soon enough for neighbors of the Pawlowskis’ Street Church Ministries. They say they’ve found themselves harassed and threatened by belligerent church members inhabiting the space without regard for physical distancing:
We don’t want them in this neighborhood. It’s a diverse community. It’s a loving community for our neighbors — we care about them — and since [Street Church] got here they haven’t done a single thing to show anything that is Christ-like. They’re pretty angry with us, recording us, telling us we’re shameful because we were asking them to mask up.
Perhaps it’s telling that the woman who gave the above quote to the Calgary Herald was too frightened of retaliation from congregants to give her full name to reporters.
But Alberta is still known for being the most conservative province in the country, nicknamed “Canada’s Texas,” so police have taken pains to balance their crackdown on COVID denialists with verbal recognition of Albertans’ freedoms:
It is important to understand that law enforcement recognizes people’s desire to participate in faith-based gatherings as well as the right to protest. However, as we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, we all must comply with public health orders in order to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.
With luck, the threat of fines and prison will convince the Pawlowskis to change when basic human decency could not. But given their apparent eagerness to paint themselves as victims rather than aggressors in some sort of twisted Nazi Germany reboot, I wouldn’t bet money on it.
(Thanks to @paulogia0 for the link)