By Nadia Moharib ,Calgary Sun
Calgary Police remove an unidentified woman from the front of city hall in Calgary, AB December 20, 2011. She was one of six people, including street preacher Art Pawlowski, removed and arrested for trespassing after holding a sermon in the municipal building. JIM WELLS/ CALGARY SUN
Allegedly trespassing by holding an unsanctioned sermon at city hall, a street preacher and his cohorts were arrested Tuesday afternoon.
Art Pawlowski, with Street Church Ministries, and a group of followers were playing bongos and guitars, holding sermons and singing in the atrium of Calgary’s municipal building without the required approval, city officials said.
“It’s a public building and all members of the public are welcome to hold a meeting or a gathering but they … require approval,” the city’s chief of security, Owen Key said.
Last week, the group was asked to submit an application for that approval but none was received, Key said.
Showing up without a permit, which the group allegedly did, was a contravention of city bylaws and the matter was referred to police.
Insp. Chris Butler said police initially “escorted” about six people out of the building only to see them allegedly return a short time later.
When Pawlowski allegedly refused to leave, he was arrested.
Six people, including Pawlowski, were arrested and charged under breaches to provincial trespassing regulations, Butler said.
Pawlowski said the arrests were a “great injustice,” and proof of “a continued bias” by the city against Christians.
The street preacher and his flock, who have long sparred with the city over his public worship tactics, began preaching inside the municipal building in response to the city allowing Occupy Calgary protesters to camp at Olympic Plaza for weeks before a judge ordered the group to leave.
Pawlowski said his group spent about a month trying to negotiate getting approval.
Several “unconstitutional bylaws,” however, including a required $2-million insurance policy for liability, made it impossible.
“Because our church represents poor people … we cannot pay,” he said of the prohibitive insurance costs.
He claimed papers were sent to city officials to let them know they planned to read from the Bible and sing Christmas carols during Tuesday’s lunch hour.
“When we arrived, police were already waiting,” Pawlowski said, noting Occupy Calgary protesters were allowed to meditate in the city hall atrium without a permit and without being hassled.
“We feel continued bias against Christians — occupiers were left alone doing their Buddhist medication and no one arrested them … the only difference is the message.”
Key could not say if the church ministry would have earned approval, had it submitted an application, but pointed out a group celebrating the lighting of the menorah had approval for an event later in the day with up to 100 people expected.
Earlier this year, courts rejected an application by the Calgary Stampede for an injunction barring Pawlowski and his followed from the stampede parade route.