(Fox News) A Canadian pastor is facing his final trial after three years of repeated fines, arrests and imprisonment for keeping his church open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Artur Pawlowski, pastor of the Cave of Adullam congregation in Calgary, said he is accused of causing $400 million worth of damages for officiating a church service during the trucker blockade at the U.S.-Canada border last year.
“This is the final culmination of over 40 tickets for the COVID tyranny, the house arrest, the prison, all of that stuff,” Pawlowski told Fox News Digital ahead of his trial, set to begin Thursday, Feb. 2, in Lethbridge, Alberta.
Pawlowski, the first Canadian clergyman to be ticketed for alleged COVID-19 violations, claims the charges against him are an attempt to criminalize his speech.
“It’s crazy stuff,” he said.
He also slammed Alberta’s new premier, Danielle Smith, who he said discussed his potential amnesty last fall but has since “backpedaled.”
Pawlowski, who also heads a charity to feed Calgary’s homeless, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the charges stemming from his participation in the trucker convoy in Coutts, Alberta.
He is charged with mischief over $5,000, contravention of the Critical Infrastructure Defense Act and failure to comply with his release condition to keep the peace and be of good behavior.
‘I will not obey’
Pawlowski first drew international attention in April 2021 when he threw armed police and a health official out of his church as they attempted to inspect it for public health compliance during an Easter service.
He was seen in a viral video chasing authorities out while likening them to the Nazi Gestapo. When officials returned a week later with a court order that empowered them “to do anything necessary” to enter his church and arrest him, Pawlowski recorded himself throwing them out again and warned his viewers that Canada increasingly resembles the communist regime his family endured in Poland.
Calgary police arrested the pastor five times after he continued to conduct services in defiance of the court order, including once in the middle of a busy highway on his way home from church. On another occasion, he was arrested on the tarmac of Calgary International Airport following a speaking tour in the U.S.
Pawlowski told Fox News Digital at the time that authorities appeared to have rummaged through his luggage at the airport and snooped in his laptop.
After multiple court appearances, a federal judge mandated in October 2021 that he recite a script publicly denouncing his own opinions on COVID-19 and vaccines.
“I said, ‘I will not obey this court order,’” Pawlowski said at the time, before the order was stayed upon appeal. “I refuse to obey a crooked judge’s order. He’s not a judge, he’s a political activist.”
When truckers in Coutts protested vaccine mandates by blocking the crossing along Alberta’s border with Montana last February, Pawlowski was invited to deliver a 20-minute speech in which he urged them to “hold the line” against the government without resorting to violence. He also warned them against traveling to the provincial capital of Edmonton, fearing they would face a government crackdown similar to what happened to truckers who had protested in Ottawa.
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Days after his speech, he was arrested at his home and spent 51 days in two different prisons, where he claimed authorities abused him by locking him in a small cage, placing him in a psychiatric ward and trying to instigate other inmates to hurt him. The inmates refused and some reached out to him for spiritual guidance, he said.
‘The same villains’
Pawlowski told Fox News Digital that he has been under house arrest since his release from prison last April and cannot leave his home without the permission of his probation officer. He ran for political office and became the leader of the Alberta Independence Party last September.
Smith, who was sworn in as premier on Oct. 11, was the first Canadian leader to apologize for the treatment of unvaccinated people in the country. Canada’s government mandated vaccinations in federally regulated workplaces, issued travel restrictions, ordered months-long business shutdowns and arrested citizens who violated the lockdowns.
The country’s treatment of the clergy drew the eyes of some American neighbors. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., urged the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2021 to consider adding Canada to its watch list after a Baptist minister in Calgary was arrested when a police helicopter reportedly found his church gathering outside.
The Ohio State Legislature passed a resolution urging the same last March, and thousands protested at Canadian consulates throughout the U.S. during Pawlowski’s imprisonment.
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During a speech at the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) annual general meeting last fall, Smith noted that the multiple pastors who were arrested in the generally conservative province ”come to top of mind” when she thinks of people who were unfairly penalized for disobeying COVID protocols. She also floated a plan to pardon such offenders.