An Alberta pastor’s battle with health authorities to ignore COVID-19 guidelines is drawing some troubling figures to a protest this weekend.
While a step forward, the law is probably still two years away, and will be hotly contested.
By Peter Smith
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
An Alberta church’s refusal to abide by provincial health authority guidelines is becoming a new nexus point for far-right propagandists and a rallying cry for hate groups. With a protest planned for the weekend, it's attracting a familiar set of characters from Canada’s hate movements.
Pastor James Coates’ ongoing legal sparring matches with Alberta Health Services provided GraceLife church a significant amount of public attention shortly after the start of the year. The controversy saw the spiritual leader jailed for 35 days near the end of February after breaking bail conditions barring him from further violating COVID-19 restrictions. However, when RCMP officers arrived this week to physically keep people off the Spruce Grove, Alberta, property, and eventually encased the house of worship in a metal fence, more members of Canada’s hate scene started to take notice.
While the Canadian anti-lockdown movement isn’t inherently hateful, the presence of hatemongers since the beginning proves that the less savoury elements are a feature, not a bug. The same is happening with GraceLife. The church welcomes a variety of supporters, but since the fence was put up -- and more voices have appeared in solidarity -- some church members have made efforts to distance themselves from those travelling to Spruce Grove.
Journalists on the scene took to Twitter describing a tense situation, especially towards the media.
The pastor stressed the protests on Sunday are meant to be peaceful, but that they intend to hold a service on Sunday and demand that the province remove what they view as overbearing and ineffective pandemic policy.
We’re keeping an eye on bad actors who might be planning to attend and will be watching on the day. Here are a few of the figures planning to attend, based on what they’ve posted to social media.
Steven Lane is one of the founders of the Urban Infidels, a faux-biker hate group he started after leaving the Calgary chapter of the Soldiers of Odin. A regular attendee of Alberta’s protests, he has repeatedly made racist and violent statements online ahead of time.
His organization is staunchly anti-Muslim and Islamophobic by nature. Inductees receive packages of bacon alongside an abundance of patches upon entry, and the group attends events organized by other hate movements.
The Pawlowskis are homophobic street preachers known for their public ministries. They’ve been public figures in the national patriot movement for years, organizing protests against what they claim is anti-Christian persecution, and often targeting municipal authorities. They lost their charitable status for their church in 2010 due to their anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ activism taking too much of their resources. In 2018, Artur Pawlowski lent his support to Bill Whatcott, who was charged for wilful promotion of hatred against trans people, by organizing a protest.
His involvement in anti-lockdown protests has resulted in him receiving a number of bylaw fines. Most recently, the brothers organized the “Jericho Torch March,” a rally that borrowed its promotional images from the deadly Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Artur also recently went viral after a self-recorded video shows him ejecting several police officers from his church.
Both the brothers Pawlowski have taken up the practice of wearing the Star of David on their arms during recent protests, including outside of a Calgary grocery store.
Mark Friesen is a former PPC candidate and Yellow Vester who continues to livestream. According to Canada Yellow Vests Exposed, Friesen regularly posts anti-Muslim conspiracy theories based around global plots to sneak in his conceptions of “sharia law.” He has also promoted individuals like white supremacist Stefan Molyneux, and tweeted a racist cartoon aimed at NDP leader Jagmeet Singh during the 2019 election.
Derek Storie is a far-right content creator who rose to some small measure of prominence during the Yellow Vest movement in Canada who now assists another hate vlogger, Kevin Johnston, in producing content. Appearing at multiple PEGIDA rallies in Toronto, he regularly worked in tandem with Rick Boswick. During one Ontario event Storie participated in the burning of a Quran with a member of the neo-Nazi Canadian Nationalist Party and several members of the Proud Boys.
Recently making headlines for a physical confrontation with a local grocery store manager, Kevin Johnston is a professional troll and racist content creator.
His laundry list of problematic endeavours include his overtly racist coffee brand with names like “Wasted Native” and “Mayor Mud” - a direct jab at Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim. Johnston is still awaiting trial for wilful promotion of hatred under Criminal Code Section 319(2). In 2017, Johnston posted a video offering a $1,000 reward for footage of Toronto Muslim students praying at school.
A five-month-long investigation resulted in charges, but in the almost four years since, he has yet to face trial.
Johnston also owes $2.5 million for statements he made about Paramount Fine Foods owner Mohamad Fakih during a protest. At the time, Ontario Superior Court Justice Jane Ferguson called Johnston’s actions toward Fakih “hate speech at its worst.” This is “by far and away the largest cyber verdict that’s sitting on the record right now,” Vancouver lawyer Roger McConchie told The Globe and Mail at the time.
He has continued to defame Fakih, referring to him as a baby killer and child murderer.
With files from Kurt Phillips.
Follow Peter Smith on Twitter at @misterEpete.