Is it illegal to pray in public in Canada?
Strictly speaking,no.But if it interferes with someone else’s rights, perhaps. Benjamin Berger, a University of Victoria law professor specializing in charter rights and religion, says religious liberties–like other liberties–are always limited by the parallel rights and interests of others. "Public spaces are classically a difficult area for the law, because on the one hand it’s to be used and enjoyed by all. On the other hand, some uses and enjoyment can interfere with other uses and enjoyment. That means a very fact-specific, case-by-case balancing act has to go on," say Berger.
Artur Pawlowski, 33, is in the middle of such a balancing act. The Polish-born Calgarian runs the Street Mission, a Christian group he formed to minister to street people.
In August, he went down to Calgary’s Fringe Festival and started preaching to the fortune tellers and tarot readers who had booths in the park. He ended up in a raucous argument, and festival organizers called the police, cooling everyone down.
The next time it happened, the police told Pawlowski to stay away from the vendors, and told festival organizers to call them if he returned. The third time? That’s the issue. Pawlowski and his co-workers started praying on the other side of the park, 200 yards from the vendors.
According to Fringe Festival producer Blair Gallant, a festival volunteer spotted Pawlowski and called police "because that’s what she was told to do." Six officers arrested Pawlowski, charging him with causing a disturbance,obstructing an and petty trespass.
Pawlowski’s co-workers videotaped him calmly claiming his right to free speech and religious liberty. He’s pleaded not guilty and goes to trial next May.
The balancing begins