The provincial election this year may well hinge on whether Albertans give a damn about Artur Pawlowski.
Who is this guy? By now you may have heard that Premier Danielle Smith is in hot water this week for things she said to him back in January.'
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Pawlowski was more or less playing chicken with AHS and the Alberta government over things like masks, holding indoor events, and so on. He was convicted of contempt of court in 2021 for some of these antics, but the conviction was later overturned.
Pawlowski eventually escalated to the point of getting mixed up in last February’s Coutts border blockade. That border crossing to the United States was blocked by pro-COVID protesters for nearly two weeks. When the RCMP finally negotiated an end to the blockade, and people were about to disperse, Pawlowski roused the protesters back, calling out that “for freedom to be preserved, people must be willing to sacrifice their lives,” and “if this is our Alamo then so be it!”
It was not their Alamo, of course, because that is insane. The RCMP eventually cleared the blockade without anyone shooting at each other—though they did arrest eleven protesters who the RCMP allege were conspiring to kill cops. And whew, those eleven certainly had a lot of guns with them.
Pawlowski himself got hit with charges under CIDA, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, an Alberta law ironically put together by the UCP to put the boot to environmentalists and labour activists. And you might think that’s just desserts, but a crackdown was exactly what Pawlowski wanted. Now sporting the cred of a real enemy of the state, Pawlowski’s prominence on the far-right and anti-vax circuits soared. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson praised him on air and argued that Pawlowski’s experience was proof of Justin Trudeau’s horrible tyranny. Pawlowski has parlayed his arrest into a gig as a minor celebrity on weirdo right-wing media.
Now according the Premier, she has been in constant contact with prosecutors, urging them to reconsider whether Pawlowski’s charges are in the public interest, and also she has been in “almost weekly” contact with justice department officials looking to see, in her words, “if anything could be done to grant amnesty” to Pawlowski and other COVID scofflaws. But according to the Premier, she also hasn’t been in constant contact with prosecutors, or even spoken to them at all. One story for the far-right and the Rebel News watchers, and a completely different story for the rest of us.
As the youths say, sus.
Here’s the thing though: if you’re not from around here or the only Alberta news you get is when we have a cameo on Fox, maybe you only know of Pawlowski as this pro-COVID guy constantly getting arrested over violating public health rules. But if you’ve been involved in politics or activism in these parts for long—especially around Calgary—you’re probably more familiar with Pawlowski’s long and filthy history as a venomous anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ bigot.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has a roundup of some of Pawlowski’s more notorious antics on their blog. It’s some real foul stuff, and that’s only the highlights. And Danielle Smith is far from the first Alberta conservative to make the mistake of getting mixed up with him. Back in 2014, Ric McIver got roasted in the PC leadership race for attending Pawlowski’s “March for Jesus” for years in a row. (Ric is still an MLA—he represents Calgary-Hays.)
That’s back when Danielle Smith was the leader of the Wildrose Party. Back then Danielle Smith was unequivocal about Pawlowski’s message and McIver’s entanglement with him, saying: “it’s beyond the pale. It’s extreme. I think Albertans expect that political leaders will stand up against this intolerance.”
I wonder if she misspoke then too.
- The writ for the election hasn’t been drawn up but oppo research season is already here. Our first dropout of the season: Torry Tanner, the UCP candidate for Lethbridge-West, who in a video posted online claimed that teachers are showing pornography to children and talking them into changing their gender. Someone at the UCP party office must have gotten nervous about that because Tanner was out of the race barely a day after the video started getting passed around. The grim thing is that what Tanner was saying is actually the UCP party line—conspiracy theories about teachers ‘making your kids queer’ have been a foundation of the UCP policy book since the conflict over GSAs in 2019.
- 1630 Albertans died from drug poisoning in 2022. While it is the second highest death ever in the history of the drug poisoning crisis the government put out a statement saying it is "cautiously optimistic about the continued downward trend since the peak in late 2021."
- The UCP continue their habit of stuffing their friends and allies into every nook and crevice of Alberta’s public institutions by appointing them to university boards, crown corporation boards and various other boards. The latest order in council has 72 appointments, at least two of whom are former PC MLAs.
- Video has been released of an Edmonton cop slamming a person in handcuffs head into the ground after they tried to stomp on the officer's foot. Duncan spoke with a former police chief from the lower mainland about whether excessive force was used.
- The Office of the Child and Youth Advovate is legally mandated to review the deaths of children and youth in care and they just released their biggest report ever. Fifteen deaths, nine of them from drug poisoning, 12 of them being Indigenous. Our editor wrote up a Twitter thread that summarized the report, read it here.
This is the online version of the Progress Report email newsletter. Don't depend on some social media or search engine algorithm to find this content in the future. Sign up to get updates on the most important local political issues in your inbox every week. If you like what we do at the Progress Report there is also one big way you can support us and that's by becoming a monthly donor. The regular donations of the 500 or so regular monthly donors keeps this small, independent media shop going.