A Canadian pastor seen in viral videos documenting his encounters with law enforcement over COVID-19 restrictions says authorities abide by a double standard when it comes to enforcing restrictions and they've been targeting him as the result of a “personal vendetta.”
In an interview with The Christian Post, Artur Pawlowski, who serves as pastor of Street Church and Cave of Adullam Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, spoke about his interactions with authorities over the past year and doubled down on his characterization of local law enforcement as Nazis and communists.
Pawlowski has compared the measures taken by law enforcement officials to enforce novel coronavirus restrictions to the actions taken by authorities in his native Poland when it was under communist rule.
While Pawlowski gained international notoriety for viral videos documenting tense exchanges with local officials over worship restrictions, his confrontations with authorities began more than a year earlier, as national and local governments began implementing restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
‘They have been attacking us since the very beginning’
As the pastor of Street Church, Pawlowski ministers to the homeless and less fortunate in Calgary. In March 2020, he was informed that Street Church would have to “shut down and stop taking care of the poor.” Pawlowski refused to obey that order, concluding that by issuing “orders to stop feeding them [and] giving them necessities of life, they were sentencing them to death. [And] some of them did die.”
“All of those people wandering the streets, if I don’t feed them or someone like me does not feed them … they’re going to attack your house or break into your car,” he added. “You got to provide people with food if they cannot get it on their own for whatever reason. … Addictions or mental illness or whatever it is, those people will eat this way or that way. I prefer to feed them instead of letting them go and hurt other people to get what they need.”
Pawlowski sent a plea to the ministers in Alberta asking them for an exemption from COVID-19 restrictions, but they refused to grant an exemption and ordered him to shut down. Pawlowski ended up paying a fine and “was threatened with arrest and [a] million dollar ticket.”
“From that moment, I had police … regularly at our church services monitoring, videotaping, taking pictures, typical harassment that I had seen growing up behind the Iron Curtain,” he recalled. “That was going on until December.”
While Pawlowski said he was subjected to “intimidating and harassment” throughout 2020, he maintained that he was not bothered as he conducted church services at the Cave of Adullam, a traditional church building. “From March 2020 to December 2020, no one really bothered us inside our building. … Throughout all this so-called pandemic, we are doing what we’re doing … no one cares … no sickness, of course, no outbreaks in our church.”
In December 2020, he said, “the federal, provincial and municipal governments came out publicly and declared that they are shutting down Christmas, canceling Christmas.” Shortly thereafter, Pawlowski “invited the whole community to come to [a] Christmas celebration.” The event, which Pawlowski described as “wonderful,” included “steaks for the homeless” as well as “carolers and musicians, singers, preachers … and hundreds of kids.”
The event did not go unnoticed by law enforcement, as police cars and police on bicycles showed up at the Christmas party, as did the chief of police. According to Pawlowski, “we were videotaped by officers.” The pastor told CP that while Christian religious gatherings experienced “intimidating” and “harassing” behavior by law enforcement, Muslim religious gatherings did not face the same treatment.
Pawlowski asserted that as law enforcement repeatedly descended on his church services, “the mosques were fully operational.” He asserted that “no one harassed them, no one interfered with them.”
“Not one Imam was being harassed or intimidated. And to this day, there’s not one Imam or one Muslim that has a ticket, even though we have video evidence and pictures [of] them gathering even recently through the whole Ramadan by the thousands,” he added. Pawlowski’s YouTube channel includes a video of a gathering of thousands of Muslims that took place on the last day of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar.
Pawlowski estimated that “about 2,000 people, maybe more, were there.” He painted a picture of the event for CP, saying, “As he [an Imam] is speaking, people are chanting, many do not wear masks, there is no physical distancing.”
The pastor singled out Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Canada’s equivalent of a state governor, for criticism. He cited a video Kenney posted on his Facebook page on the same day that the Ramadan service took place, where he thanked the Muslim community “for the care that you’re showing to others in keeping gatherings smaller and outdoors and following the public health measures.” Pawlowski called the premise of that video “a lie,” adding, “we know they are not upholding the rules and regulations.”
Pawlowski attributes the disparate treatment of religious gatherings among the two religions to fear: “If they did that to an Imam, Muslims in the mosques, their heads would be chopped off.”
By contrast, he stated, law enforcement officials believe that when it comes to Christians, “they can just walk on top of us as they please” because “we are pacifists, we are not hurting people, we are not advocating for hate or violence. … We love people, including our enemies.”
Pawlowski explained that although he has used very harsh words to describe local law enforcement and government officials throughout the pandemic, “I have forgiven those villains, I have chosen to say what Jesus said ‘Forgive them, they know not what they do.’” He expressed hope that “those people that raised their hands against God and God’s church will repent and … receive the peace and the joy that I have no matter what [the] circumstances are.”
It wasn't until more than a year after the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns that Pawlowski first went viral. Prior to his encounter with local law enforcement documented in a viral April 3 video, the pastor had several run-ins with authorities when they visited his church.
“One day, I come into the church to open the church and behold, there are police, there are peace officers with their vehicles … and they’re blocking the driveway to the church,” he recounted.
After telling them that they were violating a provision of the Criminal Code of Canada protecting the freedom of worship, the law enforcement officials departed. They would return to the church several weeks later, this time on Easter weekend.
Pawlowski suggested that visits to the church by law enforcement to make sure that it was abiding by coronavirus restrictions and social distancing guidelines were not necessary because he streamed the church services online. The livestreams illustrated that “I was not hiding the fact that we are not following those restrictions.”
“They could just come and give me a ticket, but that was not their intent and that’s what people do not understand. This was not their intent. Inspection was never their intent because they already had the evidence that we’re not following those rules,” he explained.
Pawlowski accused law enforcement officials of coming to the church “only with the purpose of intimidation and harassment,” concluding that it was not a coincidence that “they did it during the holiest day in the Christian calendar.”
He grabbed his phone and began to record his encounter, citing a desire to avoid what happened during previous “interactions with those people” where “they would lie to the media, they would say stuff that I did or said that I didn’t.” Pawlowski stressed that “I wanted to have this on the record.”
The overwhelming reaction to the April 3 video, which became “the No. 1 video played during Easter weekend,” caught Pawlowski by surprise because “I fought with those people many times before, and I posted it on YouTube and Facebook as well.” He noted that the previous videos would “reach 3,000 people here or there,” contending that the video of the interruption of the Passover celebration resonated with viewers because it was “the holiest time of the year for Christians.”
More than two months after the interruption of the Passover service went viral, Pawlowski stands by his treatment of the government agents. He described the initial tone of the conversation as “polite,” but it was only after “they would not move” that “everything started to intensify.” He referred to the law enforcement officials as “Nazi psychopaths,” repeatedly shouted “get out,” and admonished them not to return without a warrant.
Pawloski told CP that he initially thought the government officials would not be able to find “a judge as corrupt in this day” that would grant them a warrant. He had also hoped that “because of the publicity and because of the great embarrassment to them, they would leave me be.”
Instead, he noted, “they came back with a vengeance.” The pastor surmised that targeting him was “a personal vendetta for those people.”
A subsequent encounter between Pawlowski and local law enforcement recorded three weeks after the Passover service also went viral. The officials presented Pawlowski with a warrant and agreed to read over the paperwork. He indicated that he had no desire to engage in a conversation, telling them, “I do not cooperate with Gestapo,” and likening them to “brown shirts” and “Nazi Gestapo communist fascists.”
According to Pawlowski, the warrant gave local law enforcement “the power to arrest me anywhere they want … whenever I am out and they can use any force necessary … whenever they want to arrest me.” He accused local law enforcement officials of working to obtain the warrant “in secret,” a development that reinforced his belief that Canada was experiencing “a repeating of history.”
“Everything was done in secret and that’s why I call them Gestapo Nazi communists because … everything they’re doing is secret. They don’t want the people to know what’s going on. They don’t want to give people a chance to defend themselves. They’re doing it secretly like the Nazis did. There was no rule of law, there was no God, there was just … the fascists wanted to do whatever they wanted to do, lawlessness.”
Legal fallout, consequences of speaking out
Pawlowski told CP that he has received 29 COVID-19 tickets, three court orders, two injunctions and two court contempt trials over the course of the year.
On May 8, Pawlowski was arrested along with his brother, Dawid, as they were returning home from a church service at the Cave of Adullam. Video footage of the arrest shows Pawlowski refusing to walk with law enforcement as they escorted him to the police car, causing them to carry him to the vehicle.
Calgary Police issued a statement announcing that the brothers were “arrested and charged with organizing an illegal in-person gathering, including requesting, inciting or inviting others to attend an illegal public gathering, promoting and attending an illegal public gathering.” Pawlowski asserted that in addition to facing arrest for those actions, an officer told him, “I’m going to charge you with resisting arrest.” That statement caused Pawlowski to realize that “they are going to pin more stuff on me because they didn’t have anything real.”
Pawlowski denied that he was resisting arrest. “Anyone that’s seen the video knows I’m not resisting. I’m not complying, but I’m not resisting arrest.” After telling CP that one officer threatened him by saying, “I’m going to charge you with assaulting a peace officer,” he lamented that “those people are gangsters” and “lawbreakers.”
While Pawlowski spent “three days and two nights” in jail as law enforcement officials “used every opportunity to keep us there as long as they could,” he maintained that upon his release, “we were followed by an unmarked police vehicle all the way to our home,” as well as a helicopter. Pawlowski’s legal battles will persist for the foreseeable future and he is due back in court on Monday for sentencing.
In addition to the legal consequences he has faced for resisting coronavirus worship restrictions, Pawlowski has also become a target of public rancor. As The Christian Post previously reported, Pawlowski’s garage was set on fire shortly after his release from jail.
Pawlowski declared that the fire was an act of arson. “When the politicians and the mainstream media are coming out and saying all kinds of evil things … about an individual … you’re putting that person’s life at risk.”
The fire caused Pawlowski to lose “thousands of dollars' worth of stuff.” He was informed that “the garage will have to be demolished and rebuilt, so that’s probably $20,000, $30,000.”
A few days after the garage fire, Pawlowski went to Safeway to pick up a birthday cake with his daughter when he was assaulted by another customer.
“This guy comes in, he yells at me and my daughter and he punches me in the head.” As Pawlowski tried to take a picture of the man’s driver’s license, he “charged again.” Pawlowski’s assailant was ultimately arrested for assault.
In spite of the negative reaction to his actions by law enforcement, politicians and others, Pawlowski has primarily received “huge support” from his community. “I receive thousands of emails thanking me for standing up, thanking me [for being] brave enough to articulate what they're afraid to say or don’t have the means to say it.”
Even as he has spent time in jail and continued to clash with local law enforcement, Pawlowski reported that business has gone on as usual at the Cave of Adullam. “The church never stopped meeting. Even though … we were not allowed to come, other pastors took over the church, so the church still goes.”
“This is what they don’t understand about Christianity; if one pastor is down, there’s plenty of others that will take his place,” he explained. “I have about 10 people that are in line to take over the church services. If one is arrested, then another will take over. If that person will get arrested, then another will take over.”
‘In good company’
Throughout the interview, Pawlowski repeatedly defended his actions: “I’m not afraid of what I believe in, the Bible is filled with people that have resisted authorities, evil authorities, from the very beginning to the very end.” He proclaimed that “I’m not ashamed of what of doing … because I do what my Bible tells me to do.”
Pawlowski acknowledged that actions of “hate” and “slander” “come with the territory” of living a life in accordance with the Bible. “I take the good, the bad and the ugly,” he added, vowing to continue fighting “evil laws” like other figures in the Bible, including Daniel and David. “I’m in good company,” Pawlowski declared.
The adverse treatment of Pawlowski has not gone unnoticed by religious freedom advocates in the United States. On Thursday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., sent a letter to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urging them to “consider adding Canada to the Commission’s Watch List.
Although Hawley did not mention Pawlowski by name, he did discuss the arrest of two other Canadian pastors, Tim Stephens and James Coates, for holding in-person worship services in violation of coronavirus worship restrictions as causes for concern. “I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org