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Sentencing delay for men found guilty of flouting Alberta COVID-19 rules

Alberta Health Services has indicated it is seeking 21 days of jail time for the Pawlowskis
A man wears a mask as he enters the Calgary Courts Centre on Oct. 30, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sentencing arguments for a Calgary pastor and his brother found guilty of contempt after deliberately violating COVID-19 health orders has been put over until September. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Sentencing arguments for an Alberta pastor, his brother and a café owner found guilty of contempt after deliberately violating COVID-19 health orders has been put over until September.

Artur Pawlowski and his brother Dawid Pawlowski of Calgary were arrested in May and accused of organizing an illegal gathering as well as promoting and attending an illegal gathering.

Christopher Scott, owner of the Whistle Stop Cafe in the hamlet of Mirror, northeast of Red Deer, was also arrested in May at the end of an anti-lockdown rally. The café had been closed earlier by health officials.

The arrests came after court orders were granted allowing Alberta Health Services and police to charge those who advertised gatherings that would breach health restrictions.

Last month, Justice Adam Germain found Alberta Health Services had proven “nearly to absolute certainty” that the three men were “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of contempt.”

Discussions on possible sanctions were set for Tuesday, but the lawyer for the Pawlowskis asked for a delay since Alberta Health Services was preparing further affidavits against her clients.

Germain, saying he wanted to make sure that defence lawyer Sarah Miller had time to prepare, granted a delay to Sept. 13.

“Frankly, on a matter of this nature, where you have what some legal authorities might describe as an almost public contempt, bordering on criminal contempt … I’m going to give her every opportunity to vigorously defend her clients,” said Germain.

Alberta Health Services has indicated it is seeking 21 days of jail time for the Pawlowskis.

The judge said the delay might give the court a better understanding of COVID-19 in remand centres and provincial correction institutions.

“There are people who doubt the COVID-19. I can look at the death or morbidity statistics as much as any other judge and it’s a real issue,” Germain said.

“If COVID is running wild in the institutions, we don’t want the 21-day jail sentences that you’ve asked for.”

Scott’s case was set over until Sept. 17. His lawyer indicated if jail time is ordered, he will be asking that his client serve time intermittently or from home.

“We’re going to try and solve these cases in a way that’s compassionate and also realistic,” Germain replied.

Germain, who has been handling all cases involving Alberta pandemic-related breaches, begins every hearing with a warning that anyone watching not take photos or screen grabs or record the proceedings.

On Tuesday, the judge received an apology from Donald Smith, a self-identified journalist, who admitted he had taken pictures of Germain as well as of an AHS lawyer in June and posted them online.

“I am terribly, terribly sorry for taking those screen shots. I do apologize. I did not read the rules of provincial court and I’m terribly sorry and it will never happen again,” Smith said from Toronto.

He is charged with contempt of court and is to appear again Aug. 19.

Germain said the court would make note of the early apology, but suggested Smith hire a lawyer.

“You remember when you indicated that you were probably going to go to jail on this? You said that online? It does not have to be a fine,” said Germain.

It’s the second recent breach of a judge’s privacy.

A group supporting multiple churches across the country in court challenges against COVID-19 public health orders admitted to hiring a private investigator to follow Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal in an effort to gather embarrassing information about him.

—Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

RELATED: ‘Deliberate and wilful’: Calgary judge finds men guilty of flouting COVID rules