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Street preacher undeterred by bylaw limiting City Hall demonstrations

‘I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,’ says Art Pawlowski

By Sherri Zickefoose, Calgary Herald October 3, 2012

CALGARY — A controversial street preacher is fighting a new bylaw he says is banning him from offering bibles and barbecues outside City Hall.

The new municipal complex bylaw, officials say, is a overdue update for public use of city hall’s atrium and outdoor civic plaza.

But the strict new rules are seemingly tailored to prevent the street pastor and Occupy Calgary from demonstrating on city property.

On Wednesday, bylaw officers were waiting when Art Pawlowski arrived around noon to hold his regular free barbecue for the homeless outside City Hall.

After getting a head’s up Sunday that his propane tank and curbside buffet are now considered safety violations, Pawlowski was undeterred. He strung his usual banners and flags on city property. However, he set up his lunchline across the street hoping to skirt the new rules.

It didn’t work. Within 90 minutes of flipping burgers to serve a steady stream of homeless, bylaw officials and police swept in.

Pawlowski said bylaw gave him just a warning. The police weren’t so willing to look the other way. They wrote him a $170 traffic ticket for breaking a loading law as the group was packing up supplies.

“We moved across the street to avoid the conflict with the city and we’re breaking the law. Then they told us we are breaking the law because we were on a public sidewalk. It’s just such an in-your-face situation,” Pawlowski said.

“Their intension is to completely shut us down. I was hoping to avoid conflict, but it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, they seem to find another stone and stick to hit.”

Pawlowski preaches Christianity while the homeless are waiting in line for hot food on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

He said he is already planning to show up Friday for his regular barbecue, despite the new bylaw.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Pawlowski, who has a long history of run-ins with authorities and is banned for a year from City Hall.

The revamped bylaw was long overdue, said Sharon Purvis, the city’s director of corporate properties and buildings.

“It’s a whole new bylaw. The previous bylaw was quite outdated. Downtown is becoming a very different place. We as a city want it to be very vital. We want this block to be able to host many different kinds of activities. It didn’t enable that. We do want appropriate uses in a balanced way to come and use the plaza. It is the key municipal civic site. We changed the bylaw to be able to enable that to happen easier,” she said.

Fines range up to $10,000 or up to six months in jail.

“It’s much more clear what people can and can’t do, and what they need to do to make it happen in an appropriate fashion.”

The city isn’t trying to ban groups from holding events, she said.

“We really actually do want spontaneous gatherings to be able to occur on the plaza. We’re wanting that site to be adding more vitality and interest to the downtown.”

The new rules aim to control the use of the civic plaza and entryways to “balance both its use as an office of municipal government and its use by the public.”

The bylaw specifically takes aim at anyone demonstrating, camping, barbecuing food, using speakers or hoisting flags, placards or banners.

The bylaw forbids anyone from obstructing or blocking the entrance/exit zone, which has been extended, and sleeping or setting up tents.

Permits can be granted for an event in the atrium as long as it is not a religious or political demonstration during business hours.

Registered not-for-profit or charitable organizations, accredited school events, city sponsored or organized events are allowed.

The new bylaw sets parameters for safety and security considerations, Purvis said.

“There are just rules that they need to follow. Those entry and exit zones cannot be blocked,” Purvis said.

Pawlowski is banned from City Hall for one year after holding lunch-hour singalongs with his street church followers in the municipal atrium. He never sought a permit.

Last December, Pawlowski was arrested and given a 30-day “no trespassing” notice. A second offence garners a steeper penalty.

The city has spent upwards of $65,000 on a bylaw fight over Pawlowski’s use of loudspeakers in his outdoor preaching. He challenged the constitutionality of the city’s bylaws. Last year, a Court of Queen’s Bench judge ruled his religious freedoms weren’t being impeded, overturning a lower court’s decision.

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