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Pastor gets 60-day sentence for role in Alberta border blockade

Artur Pawlowski holds a press conference in Edmonton on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A Calgary pastor was sentenced to 60 days in jail Monday for his role in protests against COVID-19 public health measures that blocked Alberta's main Canada-U.S. border crossing for more than two weeks. 

But a judge in Lethbridge, Alta., gave Artur Pawlowski 60 days' credit for time already served, meaning he walked away from the courthouse a free man.

Justice Gordon Krinke said Pawlowski was not involved in the planning of the so-called "Freedom Convoy" and didn't play a major role with his appearance at the border blockade. 

"Probation would serve no useful purpose as the accused does not believe he did anything wrong. He is not remorseful for the harm he has caused," Krinke, with the Alberta Court of Justice, said in his decision. 

"Both the Crown and the defence are proposing a period of incarceration and I accept that. A period of incarceration is required in order to achieve the objectives of denunciation and deterrence." 

In May, Pawlowski, who is 50, was found guilty of mischief and breaching a release order for his role in the blockade at the Coutts, Alta., border crossing in early 2022. 

The Crown had sought a sentence of eight to 10 months, while defence lawyers were asking for time served. 

During the trial, prosecutors said Pawlowski's impassioned speech to truckers fanned the flames of unrest and convinced them to stay longer. 

"This case is not about freedom of religion and it is not about free speech. This case is a straightforward criminal case," said prosecutor Steven Johnston. 

"All protests have to take place within the rule of law. As a person, you don't get to choose what laws you follow." 

Johnston said Pawlowski showed little remorse and has shown contempt for the rule of law.

"In this case, the accused comes before the court with no sense of remorse. The lack of remorse, the lack of introspection is important in this case because of the fact he is likely a high risk to redo this," he said.

"This accused took extraordinary steps in an attempt to have this case dealt in a manner different than every other case in the criminal justice system, including calling the premier."

In March, the NDP released audio of a January phone call between Premier Danielle Smith and Pawlowski in which she is heard offering to make inquiries on Pawlowski's behalf, revealing to him internal government arguments over case direction and telling him the charges against him are rooted in political bias.

Sarah Miller, Pawlowski's lawyer, said her client had "already served a significant sentence." 

"Mr. Pawlowski accepts responsibility. The Crown seeks to have Mr. Pawlowski bend the knee, to jail him until he abandons his beliefs and to keep him in custody for an indeterminate period of time."

A crowd of supporters was waiting in the hallway and cheered as he left the tiny courtroom. 

More than 200 supporters waited outside the courthouse, with some chanting "hold the line." 

"I hope that my oppressors are listening because this is not over. This is just the beginning," Pawlowski said.

"For the past 18 months they've done everything in their power to force me to say that I am guilty, that I am sorry. They were forcing me to apologize, but I have nothing to apologize for."

Pawlowski urged supporters to back his Solidarity Movement of Alberta party in the next provincial election and called Crown prosecutors and politicians "political traitors."

"They should live every day in shame for what they're doing to us free Canadians." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 18, 2023. 

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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