Last August, Art Pawlowski spent a night in a jail cell, a night in which he claims he stopped a crystal meth addict from killing himself.
The controversial street minister says the threat of jail means little to him, and certainly won’t stop him from preaching. And he says he’ll go there again, if that’s what it takes.
“I would go to jail, absolutely,” he said Wednesday, a day after the city revoked his Street Church Ministry’s permit to preach in a downtown city park.
“If taking people of the streets means I have to go to jail, so be it.”
Calgary Parks took away Pawlowski’s permit Tuesday afternoon, after he repeatedly defied city orders to stop using amplified sound to spread his message.
With no permit, Pawlowski can no longer legally preach at Triangle Park opposite the Calgary Drop-In Centre, something he has done three nights a week for the past four years.
And if he continues preaching, he faces fines, a court date, a possible contempt of court charge, and eventually, jail.
Pawlowski says he has no intention of stopping and will be back at the park on Friday.
“This is ongoing targeting by the city. And we are the only ones that are standing up to them,” he said at his southwest bungalow. “We are preaching the message: Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not steal.”
“Who in their right mind would have a problem with a message like that?”
Bill Bruce, manager of the bylaw services, said the city had no choice but to revoke Pawlowski’s permit, something that’s rarely done. Last year, the city closed 40,000 bylaw files, taking just 100 people to court.
“When people don’t comply…there is no option,” said Bruce. “And it has become apparent that compliance isn’t going to be forthcoming. This is a last resort.”
Bruce said the city has repeatedly tried to reach a compromise with Pawlowski, with no luck. He said the preacher will have to reapply for another permit if he wants to continue with his sermons.
“The ball is in his court now,” Bruce said. “We have been pushed into this position. He has to respect the rights of the rest of the community.”
It is not the first time Pawlowski has had a run-in with the law. The married father of two was arrested last August while preaching on 17th Avenue SW during a Calgary Fringe Festival, and charged with trespassing, obstruction of justice and disturbing the peace.
He spent the night behind bars, the night he claims he stopped the crystal meth addict from committing suicide.
He has pleaded not guilty and will appear in court May 14.
“I’m not against the police. I’m not against the bylaw officers. They are just in the middle of a dirty political fight,” he said. “It’s political stupidity. Someone doesn’t like us and they want to (stop) us.”
The city, however, says it’s not Pawlowski’s message that continues to land him in hot water, but the volume.
The parks department revoked his permit after several confrontations with bylaw officers in recent weeks, and what the city claims to be numerous breaches.
“It’s strictly the volume. You can certainly help the homeless in a number of ways without breaking the bylaw,” said Bruce.
The city says it has fielded more than 100 complaints about the volume of Pawlowski’s sermons.
But the preacher claims many of those complaints were made by the same people, and points to a city document that found 27 complaints were made to the city’s 311 phone line in 2006 and early 2007 by 11 different people.
In at least 12 instances, bylaw officers investigated and then dismissed resident’s complaints, finding the amplified sermons did not breach the ministry’s permit.
“They don’t have a problem with our amplification, they have a problem with our message,” said Pawlowski. “There isn’t a violation of the bylaw here.”
“If you can prove today that we were in a breach of a noise bylaw, I will apologize and ask forgiveness. But we are not.”
Pawlowski maintains he cannot preach without the loud speakers.
“You take the speakers away and there is no ministry. You take the speakers away and we have nothing to do there.”