The city’s handling of Art Pawlowski’s Street Church Ministries bordered on an abuse of power, a judge said yesterday in throwing out bylaw and traffic charges.
Provincial court Judge Allan Fradsham said what began as noise complaint blossomed into something much bigger.
"I am concerned by the actions of certain city officials," Fradsham said in a written ruling.
"It is worth recalling that these matters apparently began as a result of complaints received by the city over ‘noise’ relating to the accused’s activities at Triangle Park," Fradsham said.
"But, he is not before this court on any noise violations," the judge said.
"Instead, the charges here flowed from the city’s considerable efforts to curtail the (disputed) behaviours."
Fradsham said while both sides shouldered some blame the city appeared to go too far.
"Perhaps not ‘the clearest of cases’ of abuse of power, the city’s attempts, through bylaw officers and police officers, to limit the scope of the efforts by the accused to minister to his congregants, fall precariously close to being excessive and, to any reasonable observer, an abuse of power."
The judge ultimately ruled six of the charges against Pawlowski were in violation of either his freedom of religion, or freedom of expression.
He was acquitted on two charges of using amplification without a permit, three of placing material on a street without a permit, and a highway charge of causing unnecessary noise from a vehicle.
A seventh charge of stunting on a roadway while handing out food by the Mustard Seed was also not made out, Fradsham said, in a lengthy, 90-page ruling.
"The accused was engaged in distributing food to certain members of the public, while using a sound amplification system to broadcast his religious message," the judge said.
"His use of a cross as a visual medium was part of that activity, emphasizing its religious connotations.
"None of these behaviours, taken individually, or collectively, could be said to constitute a ‘stunt.’"