by George Neumayr
“In an unjust society the only place for a just man is in prison,” said the writer Henry David Thoreau. That is increasingly true in Canada, where critics of its COVID restrictions can be thrown in jail for peaceful protests. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is unleashing powers meant for terrorists on the truckers. His mandates already damaged their livelihoods, but now his treatment of the truckers as a group akin to ISIS threatens to wipe them out completely. Meanwhile, a Calgary pastor who merely preached to the truckers finds himself in solitary confinement on a phony charge of incitement, according to his lawyer.
The condition of religious freedom in America is pretty dismal, but it appears to be even worse in Canada. This imprisoned pastor, Artur Pawlowski, didn’t urge the truckers to violence. On the contrary, he explicitly disavowed violence. “May God help us all, because we don’t fight with guns and swords,” he said to truckers gathered for a freedom convoy rally. “We don’t fight with Tasers and the police vehicles. We don’t. We just want to go back and work hard and achieve something and provide for our families. We just want to be left alone.”
He encouraged the truckers to continue their protests. “Hold the line,” he said. “Stand your ground.” He likened their protest to the Solidarity movement in Poland during the Cold War and exhorted the truckers to remain united against overweening politicians.
At his bail hearing this week, the Canadian government argued that his speech roused the truckers to continue their protests, as if the effectiveness of the speech made it particularly prosecutable. (One wonders: Would the state have not prosecuted him if the speech had fallen flat?) The court denied Pawlowski bail on these absurd grounds.
“Provincial court Judge Erin Olsen said Crown prosecutor Steven Johnston had established sufficient grounds to order Pawlowski held without bail pending trial on charges related to allegations he incited protesters to continue an ongoing blockade of the Coutts border crossing,” reported the Calgary Herald. Like a verdict from a Soviet show trial, the judge asserted out of thin air that Pawlowski’s blameless exercise of free speech “contributed to enormous economic harm to the local, provincial and national economy and substantial community harm to ordinary Canadians.”
In other words, he is a threat to the tyranny of Trudeau and his minions. Good for him. It is too bad other pastors don’t join him. The COVID commissars are making an example out of him in order to keep others quiet.
This isn’t the first time Canadian government officials have trampled on his free speech and religious freedom. Last year, he and two other “anti-mask activists” were fined and put on probation for simply preaching against pandemic decrees. An actual condition of their probation was that they preach the “science” behind the decrees.
“They are on the wrong side of science,” said the judge in the case. He even dictated to Pawlowski a line that he should include in his future sermons: “I am aware that the views I am expressing to you may not be held by medical experts … the majority of medical experts favour social distancing … vaccine programs.”
In 2021, police disrupted Easter services at his parish to see if his congregation was conforming to COVID regulations. Born in Soviet-occupied Poland, Pawlowski has said that the experience reminded him of those dark days: “I grew up seeing police and authorities destroying my country, not upholding the law. They were the truly brown shirts of the government, beating, torturing and showing total disregard towards law. Even though we had the constitution, they didn’t care.”
Another similarity to those days is that Canada’s government is in effect forcing pastors to serve as stooges of the state. The Soviets famously turned orthodox clergy into propagandists for state fiats. Their religious freedom shriveled down to “freedom of worship,” which basically meant that they had no freedom outside of the four walls of their churches and even there they had to toe the party line.
How is Canada’s fining and prosecuting of pastors for not upholding government orthodoxy about all things LGBTQ and COVID-related much different than that? Sen. Josh Hawley, among others, thinks Canada deserves a place on the State Department list of countries hostile to religious freedom. He is right. Biden’s administration, for that matter, belongs on the list too. But even Biden would probably think twice before throwing a pastor into jail for just talking to truckers.
The docility of the clergy during the COVID hysteria has been particularly dismaying, especially since it is so obviously a byproduct of an anti-Christian medical culture. The vaccine mandates come from the same secularist busybodies who hatched the contraceptive mandate and demand that religious hospitals perform transgender surgeries. Giving Fauci and company total control over health care makes about as much sense as entrusting senior centers to euthanists.
Pawlowski is a welcome exception to the cowering pastors who seconded the state’s decrees. And that’s precisely why he finds himself in jail — the honorable place under a tyrannical government for anyone who dares talk back.
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats’ Crypto-Socialist?