Street preacher vows to fight on
Street Church minister Artur Pawlowski, right, argues with a city bylaw enforcement officer after four tickets were issued to the minister in 2007. The legal case is ongoing. Photograph by: Tim Fraser, Calgary Herald
By Richard Cuthbertson, Calgary Herald
CALGARY – The prosecution of street preacher Artur Pawlowski and his church over the use of loudspeakers to spread his message hasn’t come cheap – costing the city’s legal department more than $65,000.
Last week, the five-year saga involving the church leader hit a new note as a Court of Queen’s Bench judge overturned the acquittal of Pawlowski on two charges under the Parks and Pathways Bylaw.
He has now been ordered to pay a $100 penalty, although the preacher vows to fight on and appeal this decision, arguing the bylaw violates freedom of expression and religion.
But city lawyer Ola Malik said the legal costs associated with the prosecutions against Pawlowski are justified, given the preacher was challenging the constitutionality of the bylaws, which the city believes are fair.
On top of that, the lawyer said the city had received numerous complaints about the noise the church group was generating when it used the speakers.
"It’s not just all about the financial aspect of it," Malik said.
"There are times when we do have to prosecute and make those decisions in the public interest."
This case, he said, has broader implications when it comes to balancing the rights of a group against the rights of the general public not be disturbed by the behaviour.
Malik adds the city never had an issue with the content of Pawlowski’s message or his brand of Christianity.
Pawlowski’s alleged infractions relate to the spring of 2007 at a handful of locations in the downtown, including a park near City Hall.
The church preaches to the homeless and drug dealers.
The accusations deal with both city bylaws and two provincial traffic safety violations. At the heart of the issue was the use of amplification.
In December 2009, Pawlowski was acquitted of all charges, but last week a judge overturned the verdict on two of the infractions after an appeal by the Crown.
In a separate case involving similar complaints, Pawlowski was acquitted of bylaw infractions this fall after a judge ruled his freedom of expression had been violated.
One spending watchdog said this is a bit of a freedom of speech case and finding out the limits of that freedom through the courts is instructive. But Scott Hennig, with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said while the city is not in an easy position, tens of thousands is a lot to spend on this type of prosecution.
"It seems like a lot of money to spend to find out whether or not a street preacher can use a megaphone or not, or speakers."
More than 200 bylaw complaints have been filed against Pawlowski and his church, according to the city; 176 from the public and another 48 generated by bylaw officers.
But Pawlowski believes it is "ridiculous" the city is spending so much time and money prosecuting him, even more so because he’s not used amplification in three years.
He said he never wanted this fight with the city and said he was successful helping the drug dealers and sex workers when stationed at park near the drop-in centre.
"The city came in big force, started to attack us," Pawlowski said. "I had two choices: either hire lawyers and start defending ourselves or pack the shop and go home."
Still, even one alderman sympathetic to the street church’s work says the city legal department is within their rights to prosecute him.
"They do great work for the homeless people and the needy and I support the work they do. But our legal department has a job to do," Ald. Jim Stevenson said.
With files from Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald