Alberta Superior Court overturns contempt rulings against Pawlowski brothers

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The province’s high court has overturned contempt of court rulings against Calgary Street Church minister Artur Pawlowski and his brother, Dawid, for violating an injunction barring public gatherings during COVID-19 restrictions.

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In a unanimous decision published Friday, a three-member panel of the Alberta Court of Appeals agreed with attorney Sarah Miller that the May 6, 2021 court order that the brothers were found to have raped did not apply to them.

The three appellate judges ruled that Judge Adam Germain erred in finding that the injunction applied to the Pawlowskis when they held a church service on May 8, 2021.

“The legal question before us … is whether the injunction was applied to the Pawlowskis in such a way that they could be held in contempt,” the appellate judges noted in their written decision.

“Without condoning the actions of the Pawlowskis, we turn to that question.”

Germain found that the court order, which named Whistle Stop Cafe and owner Christopher Scott, applied “to all persons willing to violate the operating terms of the order after having received notice of the order.”

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The appellate judges noted that the injunction against Scott and Whistle Stop included “any other person acting on their instructions or in concert with them or independently for that purpose.”

Germain interpreted the phrase “in effect” to cover the Pawlowskis’ conduct in conducting religious services during the restrictions on public gatherings.

But the appellate court ruled that the interpretation was too broad.

“This interpretation contains an inherent circularity, capturing persons acting independently of the named defendants and prohibiting them from engaging in the prohibited conduct because they are engaged in the prohibited conduct,” the appellate judges wrote.

“While this might be seen as merely awkward wording, it creates ambiguity and potential confusion when language identifying who is subject to the order refers to prohibited conduct without clearly stating that all persons are subject to the order.” .

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The appellate court said all elements of contempt had to be proven by Alberta Health Services for the Pawlowskis to be held in contempt.

“We conclude that the mandate here was not clear and unequivocal enough, when it referred to other parties ‘acting independently with the same effect,’ to apply to the Pawlowskis. Therefore, the contempt judgment against the Pawlowskis should be vacated.

The court ordered the fines against the Pawlowskis to be returned, $23,000 against Artur and $10,000 against Dawid, and vacated an order for costs against them for $15,733.50 and AHS paid their costs.

A $20,000 fine against Scott was also reduced to $10,000.

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On twitter: @KMartinCourts

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