Possible unpopular opinion: Far-right street preacher Artur Pawlowski will have done us all a favour if he manages to get all or part of Jason Kenney’s odious Critical Infrastructure Defence Act tossed out by a court on constitutional grounds.
OK, no one’s going to name a school or a bridge after the guy. But still, it would certainly be worthy of a “good on ya, buddy” moment.
The problem faced by Pawlowski is more complicated than that, of course.
For one thing, the man Premier Danielle Smith told in her notorious January phone chat that she was making calls “almost weekly” to get him off the hook faced three charges stemming from his activities during the imbroglio at the Coutts border crossing in February 2022.
On Tuesday in Lethbridge, Justice Gordon Krinke found Pawlowski guilty of the other two — violating his release conditions and “mischief” as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada when he tried to persuade blockaders to keep on breaking the law during a fiery speech at the blockade site just north of Coutts.
However, Krinke said he wasn’t going to rule on the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act charge of willfully damaging or destroying infrastructure just yet because Pawlowski’s lawyers say they plan to challenge the constitutionality of former premier Kenney’s signature 2020 legislation.
According to the CBC report, the judge said in his ruling that a verdict on that charge “would have to wait until the defence’s constitutional challenge of CIDA has been dealt with.”
I suppose you could say this state of affairs is a bad news/good news story for Smith — although it seems to me it’s mostly bad.
On the plus side, from her perspective, she can continue pretending she can’t comment on a matter that’s still before the courts — although there are lots of questions about her conversation with Pawlowski that she could quite properly respond to if she wished.
The minuses are more serious, though. Everybody has now been reminded, again, that she appeared in the recording of her conversation with the street preacher to be indicating she had interfered with the administration of justice to get his charges dropped, and that she would continue to do so.
From a common-sense perspective, her insistence she never approached a prosecutor about Pawlowski’s case doesn’t make much difference when she was speaking all the time to the justice minister and deputy minister about the same file.
What’s more, now that we are in the the official election period, Krinke’s verdict also reminds us all that the premier who won’t speak to media has time to chat on the phone with political allies facing criminal charges, if only to commiserate with them. In the normal course of events, this is simply not done.
Worse from Smith’s perspective, according to the Canadian Press, Pawlowski says he’ll tell “his side of the story” next week.
Mind you, Smith hardly needs Pawlowski to remain immersed in hot water. Indeed, in a 2022 video clip made by a right-wing publication and revived Tuesday by Press Progress, Smith can be heard enthusiastically endorsing the Ottawa occupation and “beautiful” Coutts border blockade at about the same time Kenney’s government was pleading for its end.
Still, the irony of Pawlowski’s legal situation is palpable. As is well understood, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act was pushed by Kenney to deal with groups he and his party viewed as enemies, not their friends. The targets of the legislation were First Nations blockaders, environmental groups’ dramatic protest stunts and trade unionists’ legal picket lines.
“The statute was widely seen as the Alberta government’s response to Indigenous-led blockades that sprung up across the country that year in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs fighting the Coastal Gaslink pipeline,” the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in an explainer in 2022.
The Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre argued the act interferes with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ freedom of association provisions, trespasses on federal criminal jurisdiction, tramples the right to be considered innocent until proved guilty and ignores Indigenous rights, among other flaws.
So, yes, Kenney blessed us with a real trashy piece of legislation when his United Conservative Party MLAs rushed to pass the act.
And sooner or later, if it’s not repealed first, it seems likely it will fall, in whole or in part.
But it would be satisfactorily ironic if it began to crumble thanks to the efforts of one of the UCP’s former allies, even if the extremist pastor is now sufficiently disillusioned with the efforts of Smith on his behalf to abuse her in terms similar to the way he talks about NDP Leader Rachel Notley.