Artur Pawlowski, Calgary's most turbulent priest, managed to march with his eccentrically dressed supporters right at the front of the 100th anniversary Stampede Parade on Friday.
This should be news, because the normally omnipotent Calgary Stampede Board didn't particularly want Pastor Pawlowski to be there -- in fact, last year they tried to get a court injunction to prevent him and his flock from protesting along the parade route.
Don't expect to see or hear much coverage of this oddity, however, because the Calgary media have an unwritten policy of never saying anything even mildly controversial about the Stampede when its gates are open to paying customers. Publicly speaking ill of the Stampede is considered sacrilege in what used to be known as Cowtown, even if that means journalists must take with good grace the obvious disdain of Parade Marshal Ian Tyson.
Alert readers will recall Pastor Pawlowski, the noisy street preacher who has been accused of breaking Calgary bylaws more than 70 times over the past few years, as the man who prompted a particularly intemperate Sun News Network commentator to call Mayor Naheed Nenshi an "anti-Christian bigot" when city police stopped the preacher from conducting a private religious ceremony inside city hall. Never mind that Nenshi had nothing to do with police being called to that particular disturbance back in December 2011.
At the Stampede Parade on Friday, Pawlowski and members of his Calgary Street Ministries appear to have showed up moments before start time with their Canadian and Israeli flags. The Calgary Police let them join the fun, right at the front so it could be said they weren't technically part of the event. Perhaps the officers didn't want to be called the "boys with the billy clubs" again, or anti-Christian bigots, an accusation that is thrown around with cheerful abandon in the Alberta of 2012.
This sets an interesting precedent for other unauthorized groups that may want to join future Stampede parades, but never mind that just now.
A little way back down the parade route along with Premier Alison Redford and Mayor Nenshi came one of Pawlowski's apparent supporters, Alberta Solicitor-General and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis. It's not clear how Denis felt as the province's chief law enforcement officer about Pawlowski's unauthorized presence at the head of the parade.
But notwithstanding the pastor's frequent problems with the law -- mostly tickets for noise bylaw violations when conducting services in public -- Denis, the MLA for Calgary-Acadia, was not inclined to ignore Pawlowski's support during last spring’s tight-fought provincial election.
Just before the election, Pawlowski delivered a little succor to Denis's Progressive Conservative party, which was being strongly challenged by the far-right Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith, who casts herself as a defender of Christian values.
According to an account by Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, Pawlowski spotted a photo of Smith at a Hindu ceremony, where she was clad in traditional Indian garb and said to be asking for blessings from the gods. "The pastor erupted," Braid wrote just before the election. "Smith will not have his vote, he wrote, because she 'crossed the line from being tolerant of other people and their beliefs to actively participating in their idolatrous practices.'"
Not long after the election, the Solicitor General wrote the pastor a letter thanking him for organizing a June 17 event called the Calgary March for Jesus.
"March for Jesus is an opportunity for believers to publically (sic) profess their faith in Jesus Christ, give him glory, and make known what he has done for us," Denis wrote under Solicitor-General Department letterhead on June 20. "As a supporter of the March for Jesus, I thank you and all the organizers who made this event a success."
It remains to be seen if Denis will write another letter to Pastor Pawlowski thanking him for his contribution to this year's Stampede Parade.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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