A clergyman from Alberta, Canada, who was repeatedly imprisoned after not closing his church praised a plan from the province’s new premier to pardon and compensate those arrested and fined over COVID-19 protocols.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but I would like to see it being done,” Pastor Artur Pawlowski told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.
Pawlowski, who is now running for political office after becoming leader of the Alberta Independence Party in September, has endured multiple dramatic arrests during the pandemic, including once in the middle of a busy Calgary highway on his way home from church and again on the tarmac of the Calgary International Airport after a speaking tour in the U.S.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who was sworn in on Oct. 11, is the first Canadian leader to apologize for discrimination against the unvaccinated in Canada, which has seen some of the strictest COVID-19 mandates in the world.
In a Saturday speech at the United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting, Smith noted that the pastors who were arrested in the province ”come to top of mind” when she thinks of people who were unfairly penalized for disobeying the country’s COVID rules.
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Crackdowns on the clergy in the generally conservative province of Alberta have made international headlines. Police barricaded churches and jailed multiple pastors, including Pastor Tim Stephens, who was arrested after a police helicopter reportedly found his Calgary congregation gathering outside.
Stephens’ multiple arrests in front his young children prompted Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., to urge the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to consider adding Canada to its watch list.
In February, Pawlowski spent 51 days in jail after being arrested following a speech to truckers who were blocking the U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alberta, in protest of Canada’s vaccine mandate. The pastor told Fox News Digital after he was released that he was abused and humiliated by prison authorities, and that some guards tried to convince other inmates to hurt him, but that they refused.
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Many of the charges against Pawlowski were dropped in June upon his appeal, but he still has outstanding fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars for keeping his church open and feeding the homeless in defiance of the government.
Pawlowski, who worries that Canadians have become complacent about what he says is growing tyranny in the country, said he never would have come to Canada after growing up under communism in Poland if he had known what he would have been facing.
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“You’re not allowed to question governments, you’re not allowed to question the mainstream media, just like during my childhood when I was growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Poland under the boots of the Soviets,” he said.
Noting that some tactics in Western democracies today are “identical” to what he experienced growing up in a communist country, he said, “It’s the same fear and terror, censorship, deplatforming. You will lose your job, you will not get a job. So this is still happening here.”
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Pawlowski parried potential arguments from those who would object to a pastor getting involved in politics by pointing out that North American democracy was founded in part by politically active members of the clergy, and noted that Alberta specifically prospered under former premiers William Abherhart and Ernest Manning, both of whom were pastors.
“I am a Canadian, a free Canadian; free to worship as I see fit, free to stand up for what I believe is right,” Pawlowski said. “Should we throw all of that out and move to Saudi Arabia? I think Justin Trudeau would fit in perfectly over there. Or maybe North Korea would be better for him. He loves dictatorship. I’ll buy him a ticket. Go, please enjoy it.”
Despite praising her rhetoric, Pawlowski expressed skepticism that the new premier will follow through on her promises, especially since several of Smith’s cabinet ministers served in the previous administration, including some people he alleges were intimately involved in persecuting him.
“As much as I like that she apologized publicly, I don’t think she has the boldness and the courage to actually do what’s right to go after the villains,” Pawlowski said. He claimed he has not yet been offered the opportunity to sit down with Smith, but welcomed a meeting with her.
“What the government did to us, I can only compare to what is happening in some totalitarian nations, and I hope that she keeps her word,” he said.
The premier’s office did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment by time of publication.