Kneeling inside the city hall atrium, his two fists joined together, a city street preacher asked police to arrest him following a prayer service Tuesday.
Artur Pawlowski, pastor of the Street Church Ministries, told cops who descended on the illegal noon-hour gathering that he and his followers have the right to gather in the municipal complex to express their faith because they’re protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As police tried to move the group, which has sparred with the city on several occasions, Pawlowski refused to comply with the order to disperse.
“OK officer, take me or shoot me outside because I’m not leaving!” screamed the pastor.
“No one, not you, not (the) prime minister or the mayor of this city is going to deprive me as citizen of this country of my guaranteed constitutional law.”
More than two dozens members and supporters of the street church showed up at city hall for the sermon, held 30 days after the group was banned from city hall for a month.
The group conducted a service featuring prayers, preaching and singing.
Minutes before they proceeded with the service, a city official told them they’re allowed to gather peacefully, but preaching is prohibited in the civic space.
Owen Key, manager of corporate security, said five members of the church, including Pawlowski, were given notices banning them from the municipal complex for a year while five others were given a 30-day prohibition from stepping into the building.
Key said those slapped with the year-long prohibition had already been handed previous warnings for violating city bylaws, prompting the longer ban.
“They didn’t follow the procedure for the atrium, therefore they’re breaching the bylaw,” said Key.
A city bylaw prohibits religious activities during business hours, along with political demonstrations and public rallies, among others.
Key said the group is not being discriminated against, but the same rules apply to all who gather in city hall.
On Dec. 20, Pawlowski and four others were slapped with a notice not to set foot on the property for 30 days.
When that prohibition expired, the pastor, equipped with a video camera, and his supporters went back to the atrium and held the service.
The street church, whose flock gathers outside the historic city hall four times a week, has been battling the city for seven years.
The move to conduct a service inside the municipal building is part of that battle, said Pawlowski.
“We were able to pray, and remind people of our constitutional rights and sing few songs and we were interrupted again,” he said.
“We have views about Jesus Christ, we take (them) to the place where people gather.”
The pastor vowed to defy the vow, pledging to return next Tuesday with a larger crowd.