Pastor Artur Pawlowski goes to trial for Coutts border blockade sermon
A pastor is on trial in Lethbridge for his part in the Coutts border blockade last year.
Artur Pawlowski is charged with breaching a release order and mischief for inciting people at the border crossing, where truckers gathered to block a highway.
Outside the courthouse Thursday, about 300 people shouted their support for Pawlowski.
"He has been an amazing leader for us, inspiring all of us," said Bob Blayone.
The pastor and activist is on trial for mischief over $5,000 and contravention of the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act after he gave a sermon during the Coutts border blockade in February 2022.
"They have waged a war against our way of life, against freedoms that were given to us by our god," Pawlowski said.
From Jan. 28 to Feb. 14, 2022, hundreds of trucks, semis and farm equipment blocked Highway 4 to protest COVID-19 restrictions.
The highway and Coutts border crossing were closed, or only partially open, during that time.
The protest is estimated to have cost the Alberta economy $220 million.
As part of its evidence, the Crown submitted a video taken of Pawlowski at the Smuggler's Inn in Coutts on Feb. 3, 2022.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Pawlowski travelled to Coutts that day and addressed some of those involved in the blockade.
He told them to not lose their momentum, adding they had the power and to not give it away.
Pawlowski was arrested at his home in Calgary on Feb. 8, 2022.
He maintains his innocence, saying he only encouraged a peaceful protest.
During closing arguments, Crown prosecutor Steven Johnston said this trial isn't about political speech and it's illegal to incite or encourage someone to commit a crime.
Johnston said Pawlowski's actions were premeditated.
"He came down to give a speech to encourage them to keep going. He clearly knows what he's doing is at a risk of criminality," Johnston said.
Pawlowski's defence team did not call any evidence, stating in their closing arguments Pawlowski did not interfere with the highway and was there to deliver information.
"His speech was legally justified and therefore constitutionally protected," said lawyer Sarah Miller.
Pawlowski said this is the trial of the century but he, himself, is not on trial.
"Our country, our home and our freedom is on trial," he said.
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