Calgary street preacher ready to sue city for religious persecution
January 6, 2012
Pawlowski claims Mayor Nenshi anti-Christian
By Christopher Walsh and Kevin Olenick
Street church minister Artur Pawlowski, centre, listens to City Hall official.
Art Pawlowski, better known as Calgary’s street preacher, will be taking a break from praying for city councillors’ souls to sue both the city and the police service for damages associated with years of harassment and persecution he says he’s suffered.
Pawlowski and six of his flock were arrested December 20 inside city hall for holding a church service without filing the necessary permits.
But Pawlowski and well-known right-wing mouthpiece Ezra Levant are claiming the arrest is part of an anti-Christian crusade perpetrated by Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
“I believe this guy is biased, either because he’s Muslim or he’s a socialist – because clearly he is,” Pawlowski said.
“Either he doesn’t like conservative people – and I am a conservative person and a Christian. There has to be some connection.”
Pawlowski has been arrested eight times since 2005, been served with over 100 court summons and has appeared in court over 70 times. He says the latest arrest, which saw him and others escorted in handcuffs past an LRT station, was the breaking point.
“We’re going to file a lawsuit against the city and the police department for damages,” he said.
“They walked us like Nazis out of concentration camp for everyone to see, handcuffed and escorted by the heavy arm of the police force. There was no need for a display. I think what they wanted was to achieve embarrassment.”
Nenshi’s office would not comment on the accusations of religious intolerance, citing the perceived absurdity of the claims, but did confirm Nenshi did not call the police to have Pawlowski and the group removed. That decision was made by the city’s corporate security and was based on the group not filing the necessary paperwork to appear in city hall.
Ashley Wedderburn, a corporate administration spokesperson with the city, says the city was following proper protocol on a group that did not file an application.
“The municipal building is a public building and all visitors are welcome. As it is primarily an office building, we ask those who visit to conduct themselves appropriately and not disrupt normal business activities,” she said in an email. “The City requires those who wish to hold a meeting or gathering to apply through the appropriate process to receive permission to hold an event.”
But Pawlowski says the application itself is biased and prohibits religious activities during regular business hours at city hall, requires a $2 million liability and can only be done once a year. He says he was negotiating with city representatives in hopes of working out a resolution that would permit him to hold services in the atrium from time to time or in another room.
Pawlowski says he will not file a form that prohibits religious activities during business hours.
“I’m not going to hide that we are praying. I’m not going to say I’m mumbling something that’s not religious, because it is,” he said.
And he will be back, he adds.
“I decided, no, we have to go to the heart of the city, to the very core of the city where the politics is happening and we have to start being not only visible, but also be in the heart where we can pray and preach and influence those people,” he said. “Obviously, they need to be influenced. They are like little children running around with the clubs hitting everyone that doesn’t like them or says something negative.”
Although the Street Church has had difficulties with city hall, other Christian-based organizations in the city have found city hall to be supportive.
Maria Nndem, who has worked for Street Light, an outreach group that focuses on homeless youth, says they have a long standing supportive history with the city.
“Our relationship with the City of Calgary is a good one,” Nndem said. “They have always been supportive of us. Even back to the days of Mayor Al Duerr. When we were struggling to find a safe and parking-secured location for our ministry, the city alderman came to our rescue and fully enabled us to continue our outreach.”
Allyssa Burnhham, a spokesperson with the Mustard Seed echoed the sentiments.
“Although there has been some struggles , we have come to place of respect and real partnership with the City,” Burnham said.
Pawlowski says those groups have not had issues because they are conducting their business out of the public eye. Feeding hundreds of homeless people on the streets attracts a lot of attention that the city doesn’t like, he says.
“The homeless are visible and not looking very good,” said Pawlowski. “They don’t like that because it shows their inability to deal with the issue or the problem.
“The second thing is we are very vocal about our faith. We don’t hide it. We’re very vocal and because of the name Jesus Christ constantly being listed. That makes them very nervous.”
Pawlowski would not give a timeframe for the lawsuit, but did say he’s still willing to discuss the issue with the mayor or city representatives.
“This is not a game for me. This is life and death. We’re fighting for our own survival in this city.”