Street preacher accuses Calgary officials of having a vendetta in eight-year battle over noise complaints
Artur Pawlowski in 2011. The preacher has been fighting the city of Calgary since 2005, when he began began using a portable loudspeaker to share the gospel with homeless people and prostitutes. Keith Morison for National Post
CALGARY — At a coffee shop just outside city hall, street preacher Artur Pawlowski pulls a thick sheaf of white papers from his briefcase.
Mr. Pawlowski has, famously, been fighting the city since 2005, when he began to noisily share the gospel with homeless people and prostitutes — he later set up a BBQ in front of city hall and handed out free food.
In the briefcase: Voluminous records documenting what he believes to be an orchestrated eight-year campaign to harass his Street Church. Mr. Pawlowski brandishes emails and documents, obtained under freedom-of-information laws, that show a city of Calgary that seems obsessed and exasperated with him.
He hands over a detailed write-up of the Street Church and its followers, apparently created by the city of Calgary’s corporate security department. Line after line shows the preacher, along with dozens of people associated with his church, their names redacted.
“They are acting like five-year-old kids acting like FBI agents,” said Mr. Pawlowski, who filed the document in a Calgary court last week.
There are now four cases outstanding between the preacher and the city, continuing a history of legal battles that began when Mr. Pawlowski began using a portable loudspeaker.
The city claimed to have received dozens of noise complaints. Soon Mr. Pawlowski was holding prayer meetings inside the city hall’s main atrium — he continues to do so today, even though he’s been hit by several court cases, hundreds of bylaw tickets and trespassing notices amid a change to the city’s municipal bylaws that seemed custom-crafted to keep him and his adherents away.
He said the freedom-of-information documents prove the city has a vendetta against him. And he believes much of it seems to stem from the office of recently re-elected councillor Druh Farrell.
A June, 2007, email shows her executive assistant asking bylaw officials to pull Mr. Pawlowski’s permits.
“Alderman Farrell wants the permits pulled,” the email read. “This office has been quite patient while dealing with this issue, but the patience is gone.”
Mr. Pawlowski said this is evidence of abuse of power: Ms. Farrell should not be ordering the city bureaucracy on a permit issue, he said.
Jim Lightbody, a professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in municipal politics, said the email appears to be an example of overreach, of an elected official interfering in what should be an impartial city process.
“There’s a clear line. You can advocate for constituents, but you can not, as a councillor, direct a staff member who’s a bureaucrat. You can’t meddle in that part of the system,” he said.
“Councillors don’t have the authority to fix parking tickets or issue permits, and anything they don’t issue, they can’t rescind.”
Mr. Pawlowski believes the left-leaning Ms. Farrell took issue with the conservative nature of his Christian sermons, with their traditional positions on homosexuality, promiscuity and the like.
City officials, though, point instead to dozens of noise complaints.
Mac Logan, acting city manager, said Ms. Farrell’s email is being blown out of proportion.
City employees are clearly exasperated, but they still grant Mr. Pawlowski permits, he said.
‘They are acting like five-year-old kids acting like FBI agents’
“I would characterize emails like that from aldermen, they’re not unusual. An alderman will ask someone in administration to deal with an issue and they’re getting increasingly frustrated, they’re not getting the result that they’re seeking and in this case there’s been an injunction granted by the courts that’s being ignored. Alderman Farrell was dealing with lots of complaints,” he said.
“But we would never interpret an email like that as an instruction to pull a permit.”
The permit in that case was denied, however.
And as for that internal profile of the Street Church, Colleen Sinclair, a lawyer with the city, said corporate security simply compiled a list of members of the Street Church who had been served trespass notices.
“What corporate security did here was that they had a group that was coming in and habitually breaking our city hall complex bylaw. As a result trespass notices were issued against them,” she said. “Trespass notices last 30 days. We need to keep track of trespass notices so that if a person comes back in within 30 days, we would know if they breached the trespass notices.”
She adds: “The religious persuasion of any of those individuals would be completely irrelevant.’’
Mr. Pawlowski insists he wants his battle with the municipal government to end. He has taken out two mortgages on his house to fight the city, and seems ready to settle.
“I don’t know why they just don’t sit down with me,” he said.