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Calgary preacher's public gathering violation conviction set aside, fine reimbursed

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A Calgary preacher and his brother have successfully appealed their convictions for hosting public gatherings during the pandemic and will have their fines reimbursed.

Twice in 2021, Artur and Dawid Pawlowski were ruled to be in contempt of a COVID-19-related Alberta Health Services' injunction that limited the number of people permitted to congregate and required physical distancing and the use of face masks.

Artur Pawlowski, a Street Church preacher, was sentenced to three days in jail and fined $20,000 while Dawid's sentence was three days in jail and a $10,000 fine. During sentencing, the brothers were also ordered to pay a total of $15,733.50 to AHS for costs incurred.

The violations occurred at the Street Church the brothers operate, but the injunction named the church, not the Pawlowskis themselves. In their appeal to Alberta's highest court, they claimed they could not be found in contempt of an injunction that was not made against them specifically.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals of Alberta determined the language used in the injunction was open to interpretation and created "ambiguity and potential confusion." The Pawlowskis' conviction on the contempt charge was set aside as well as their probation. Their fines will be reimbursed and AHS has been order to return the $15,733.50 it was awarded.

WHISTLE STOP OWNER'S FINES REDUCED

Alberta Health Services shut down the Whistle Stop Cafe near Mirror on May 5, 2021.

The appeal court also ruled on a related case involving a central Alberta restaurant.

Christopher Scott, the owner of the Whistle Stop Café in Mirror, Alta., was found to have been in contempt of an AHS injunction against him regarding illegal public gatherings in June 2021. The conviction was related to an event he hosted outside his restaurant in May 2021, mere days after the injunction was granted.

Scott was sentenced to three days in jail, fined $20,000, ordered to complete 120 hours of community service and placed on 18 months' probation. He was also ordered to pay AHS $10,922.25 to cover costs.

The restaurant owner appealed the sanctions against him, not the contempt finding, claiming they were "excessive and disproportionate."

The court of appeal partially granted the appeal, reducing Scott's fine to $10,000, half of the original penalty, and permitted him to make monthly $500 payment toward it.

His probation was also reduced to eight months, a duration that is now complete.

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