Dr. Dawg

The Sun shines again on anti-Muslim bigotry

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Naheed Nenshi, the Muslim mayor of Calgary, was accused of “anti-Christian bigotry” yesterday by Sun columnist Ezra Levant. Calgary City Hall security and police had escorted a street preacher named Artur Pawlowski and his five-person entourage from the atrium, and gave several of them tickets for trespassing.

The preacher claimed that the mayor had called the atrium the city’s “living room,” and that they had thus, implicitly, been invited.

The city, for its part, has a different take on things:

[A]fter being warned the last time that they must apply, like everyone else, to hold an organized event in the atrium, city officials say they refused to comply.

“They failed to apply and the police were notified after last week’s event,” said Owen Key, the city’s manager of corporate security.

“They repeated that today, again not submitting an application through the approved process, choosing to hold this service again in the atrium.”

Says Levant:

All means all.

Unless they’re Christians having a peaceful, drug-free, sex-free celebration of Christmas in the people’s “living room.” Then Nenshi sends in boys with the billy clubs. For a pastor singing Christmas carols and reading Bible passages.

This isn’t the first time Nenshi — or the city of Calgary — has harassed Pawlowski or his Street Church. Over the past six years, Pawlowski has literally been to court more than 70 times fighting against a series of tickets, charges and other fabricated penalties cooked up by City Hall — none of which was applied to Nenshi’s favourites in the Occupy movement.

With this particular commentator, one always knows that there’s inevitably a lot more to it—such as City Hall booking requirements. Levant is selective, to put it mildly, about the information he shares with his readers. He provides just enough carefully chosen bits and snippets to bolster his polemical case, and leaves out details that most people would consider essentially relevant.

I thought I would provide some backstory here—and a lot of missing frontstory besides.

Let’s begin with the target of his wrath. Nenshi was actually elected on October 18, 2010—a little over a year ago. But the City of Calgary has been butting heads with Pawlowski for years before that.

It seems that he like to amplify the Word of God with loudspeakers and microphones at considerable volume. In fact, he’s known as the “loudspeaker preacher” because of it. He’s been a thorn in the side of city bylaw officers, amassing a large number of tickets for various offences, including trespassing and dispensing food without meeting health standards.

The church has been at odds with the authorities since 2005, when the city first started getting complaints about Pawlowski and Street Church. You can hear the noise in Bridgeland from the other side of the river when he preaches in the park. The city wants to end this. In December, the city applied for an injunction against the church to prevent it from meeting in any city park. (The city pulled the church’s park permit last year after the church used amplified sound after being told not to.)

That city officials became so irritated with this in-your-face pastor that they may have overstepped their bounds on occasion is entirely believable. Here’s the National Post’s Kevin Libin:

One dismayed judge remarked in a 2009 decision favouring Mr. Pawlowski that the city’s deployment of bylaw officers and police officers to restrict his preaching “fall precariously close to being excessive and, to any reasonable observer, an abuse of power.”

But that’s not quite the whole story either. Here is the salient commentary, recorded by Mr. Justice R.J.Hall who ruled this year on Calgary’s appeal of the 2009 judgement:

The trial judge concluded that although the evidence supported that there was abusive conduct by bylaw officers and police officers, the conduct did not fall within the category of the clearest of cases. He stated that the City’s attempts, through bylaw officers, to limit the scope of efforts of Mr. Pawlowski to minister to his congregants fell precariously close to being excessive and an abuse of power, but was not in the clearest of cases.

In fact, the trial judge’s “dismay” did not move him to uphold Pawlowski’s claim at the time.

Justice Hall dismissed part of the city’s appeal: specifically against the original 2009 finding that Calgary’s bylaws were, in some respects, overly vague and broad. Pawlowski had been ticketed for placing “material” on a sidewalk, including his sound system, tables, signs and a big wooden cross. As Hall noted:

[67] The provision in s.17(1) of the Street Bylaw prohibits the placement of any object or article on the streets or sidewalks of the City of Calgary. The over breadth of such a prohibition is alarming. The sole of one’s shoe, a baby carriage, a briefcase, even, arguably, a vehicle, is, by this prohibition, prohibited from being on a street or sidewalk.

He was not so favourable in the rest of his ruling, however. He found that the city’s prohibitions against sound amplification in a public park were reasonable. And, on the question of “abuse of power,” the appeal judge was not at all sympathetic to Pawlowski:

[106 I do not consider that the City has abused its powers. It was faced with balancing the concerns of the public with the wishes of Mr. Pawlowski. It had tried many times before April of 2007 to come up with solutions acceptable to both; however when no such solution could be found, the City exercised the discretion afforded to it and revoked the permit as Mr. Pawlowski was not abiding by its terms.

[107] To my mind, the City was justified in refusing to consider applications by Mr. Pawlowski in 2008 given the outcome of the Court of Queen’s Bench applications. I do not see this as constituting an abuse of power by the City. Further, I am not critical of the City for trying to enforce s. 21 (e) of the Parks and Pathways Bylaw against Mr. Pawlowski. He was clearly violating that provision. The city laid charges in response.

[108] For these reasons I am satisfied that the abuse of power argument put forth by Mr. Pawlowski at trial is without merit. [emphasis added]

But readers will note that Ezra Levant tells us:

This year, an appeal judge said the city’s bullying of Pawlowski came “precariously close to being excessive and an abuse of power.”

Mr. Justice Hall did absolutely nothing of the kind. He merely quoted the trial judge, and ruled in the very opposite direction.

Now, let’s get back to the latest case, the one that has Ezra so exercised.

In September 2010, before Nenshi won the municipal electiion, Pawlowski and his merry band entered Calgary City Hall to pass out pamphlets.

I have purposely linked to a pro-Pawlowski site, which offers the following information about that incursion:

Fines and access bans were levied against Pawlowski and volunteers under Trespass on Premise and the Petty Trespass Act. In fact, volunteers are strictly prohibited from entering the Municipal complex for a period of two years. Why such a severe penalty? The pamphlet titled, “Who are you going to vote for?” became so dangerous that security assaulted Pawlowski, corporate security with Owen Key was called and eventually, the police arrived on the scene. The group of volunteers managed to distribute hundreds of pamphlets before they were ticketed, noticed of trespass were given and Pawlowski was handcuffed and taken into custody.

…Dave Hughes was banned for two years from entering the municipal complex, Maurice Boyer banned for two years, Bogdan Stobiecki banned for two years, Misael Serrano banned for two years and Shelly Digout banned for two years. [emphasis added]

So there was a court ruling in place, pre-dating Nenshi’s election, that may well have had direct bearing on this case. Did Levant even bother to inquire?

Pawlowski is suing the former mayor of Calgary for malicious persecution stemming from that incident. That should be mildly interesting in itself, but it has no bearing at all on the present mayor.

Levant, however, seizing his opportunity, compares Pawlowski’s treatment by the city to that of the #OccupyCalgary movement. Levant doesn’t like the latter at all, and most likely would have approved of sending in the “boys with the billy clubs” to put a quick end to their tent city. But Nenshi chose a more cautious approach, which was not to his liking.

The street preacher in question happens to be loud and outspoken about the alleged evils of homosexuality and abortion—so much so that the Canadian Revenue Agency pulled his charitable status. Once again, this all took place well before Nenshi assumed his chain of office.

But the Right clearly has itself another martyr—and Nenshi is a Muslim.

Ezra doesn’t like Muslims. Indeed, back in 2007, he wrote a vicious Sun column in which he attributed a school bus accident to a head covering worn by the driver, and castigated journalists for not asking if she was a Muslim. (As it happens, the driver, Louise Rogers, was not.)* His story was yanked, and Levant himself disappeared from the pages of the Sun for some time.

Now he’s back, of course, and looking for any excuse to go after the Muslim mayor of his city, simply for being Muslim:

Nenshi is once again enforcing the law with precisely the brutality and bigotry that Calgary’s courts warned him against. And during Christmas, no less.

Nenshi is a left-wing mayor. That’s not new — Calgary’s last four mayors have been Liberal, as are most of its city councillors. He’s a minority politician in Alberta — that’s hardly new either, in the province that gave us everyone from the Famous Five suffragettes to Canada’s first Hindu and Muslim MPs.

What is new is that the Muslim mayor thinks religious tolerance is a one-way street — a point he made again brutally this Christmas.

There’s a clear case of déjà vu here. If one compares Levant’s 2007 column with yesterday’s diatribe, one is hard-put to find the latter less vile. Will the Sun once again do the right thing? With six years of Stephen Harper to embolden it, I won’t be holding my breath.

*ERRATUM: In fact, Rogers was a convert to Islam, and I have corrected the post. But it looks as though medication and other non-religious factors were at play in this case—not her hijab. [H/t reader Holly Stick, in the comments.]

[H/t MuskokaMoneybag]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on January 1, 2012 1:10 PM.

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