One of the organizers is a homophobic and Islamophobic preacher who has already earned multiple fines for leading anti-lockdown protests.
While a step forward, the law is probably still two years away, and will be hotly contested.
By Kurt Phillips
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
An anti-lockdown “torch march” will take place on February 20 in Edmonton. Advertisements for the “Jericho Torch March” and “Walk for Freedom” use a now-infamous image from the 2017 “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville of young white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching through the park, torches in hand, as they shouted “Jews will not replace us.”
The promotional image for the Walk for Freedom and Torch March. Source: Facebook
Among the organizers is street preacher Artur Pawlowski of Calgary. Artur and his brother Dawid have been public figures in the city for years, organizing protests against what they claim is anti-Christian persecution, and often targeting municipal authorities. Artur Pawlowski’s involvement in anti-lockdown protests has resulted in him receiving a number of bylaw fines.
In Alberta, “Walk For Freedom” rallies have been occurring regularly since the summer of 2020. Key organizers have presented their efforts as a response to what they claim are tyrannical rules imposed by all levels of government.
Meet Artur Pawlowski (here with Rob Anders). If you are unfamiliar with the name, he is a far-right preacher in Calgary who is associated with groups like the Soldiers of Odin, Northern Guard, III%ers and Worldwide Coalition Against Islam among others. 1/21 pic.twitter.com/haRkPrTIxr— Kurt Phillips🧛♂️ (@ARCCollective) February 9, 2021
However, the anti-LGBTQ preacher has also used the protests as an opportunity to spread Islamophobia. In a video posted to Facebook by Artur on December 28, 2020 in which he and his brother berated police officers during an anti-lockdown protest, Artur attacks Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s religious background as well as threatening to bring protestors to the homes of police officers enforcing the bylaw:
"When a people become so dangerous that they can not have a peaceful assembly because some Muslim, Islam, crazy, politician say’s so, you know we’ve lost our rights. And I’m thinking let’s go to [the police officers’] homes. Let’s find out where they live. And maybe next time we’ll do a rally on their front porch."
Referencing another protest on January 24, 2021, Artur approvingly wrote on his Facebook profile that the protesters were chanting, “Naheed Nenshi has Got to Go” further stating that “the Muslim mayor waged war against Christianity in the city of Calgary!” One of his supporters wrote in reply, “hang the fuck” and “too bad Canadians don’t believe in beheadings.”
Artur has deep links with Islamophobic extremists and white nationalist groups. On June 3, 2017, he was a keynote speaker at a rally organized by a hate group named the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam protesting against M-103 and immigration from developing countries. The WCAI leader, Joey DeLuca, refers to immigrants and refugees from developing nations as “sewage.”
Screenshot of Joey DeLuca on a livestream on Artur Pawlowski’s channel. Source: Youtube
Among the participants were members of the white nationalist Northern Guard and Soldiers of Odin as well as members of the III% militia, who were characterized as providing security.
DeLuca participated in an event organized by Artur on April 13, 2018 when he introduced anti-Muslim activist Sandra Solomon as a speaker. Members of the Soldiers of Odin provided security at this event, including the leader of the Calgary chapter who posted pro-Nazi and Holocaust denial material on social media.
In addition to co-organizers Artur and conspiracy theorist Brad Carrigan -- who has claimed that he is working with Edmonton police to coordinate the event -- the rally will feature other speakers including former PPC candidate Laura-Lynn Thompson who attended an anti-trans rally where members of the Soldiers of Odin acted as her security.
Anti-Musim vlogger and Calgary mayoral hopeful Kevin Johnston is also slated to appear. Johnston is currently facing hate charges, but is best known for losing a $2.5 million judgement against him after being successfully sued by Toronto entrepreneur and philanthropist Mohamad Fakih. At the time, Ontario Superior Court Justice Jane Ferguson called Johnston’s actions toward Fakih “hate speech at its worst.”
Peter Downing, the founder of the Wexit separatist effort who suggested that the election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party could result in a civil war, is also billed as a speaker for the protest and march.
The use of imagery from Charlottesville, which attracted hundreds of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and militias -- and which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer -- is troubling.
A number of violence-promoting groups and individuals have expressed their plan to attend the February 20 event. In an exchange with Joey DeLuca -- who refers to a prominent Black activist as a “half breed mud baby” -- Urban Infidels leader Steven Lane states his intention to attend the Edmonton event saying, “I will see you in Edmonton scumbags. UIC b***h.”
Urban Infidel leader Steven Lane:— Kurt Phillips🧛♂️ (@ARCCollective) February 9, 2021
"How dare organizers of the Feb 20 counter rally say we are racist!"
Also Urban Infidel leader Steven Lane (and WCAI's Joey DeLuca:
"Everyone look and see how racist we are!" pic.twitter.com/xFb7T2Mwg5
Another far-right figure has also urged individuals to attend the Edmonton event. Pat King, whose rhetoric contributed to an ugly attack on anti-racist activists in Red Deer, posted a video on January 29 regarding the Edmonton protest in which he uses racist and misogynistic slurs to describe a Black activist and promised violence:
"Kongzilla decides to rear her ugly head out of the woodwork again. And I’m going to call her Kongzilla because that’s what she is. She’s a b***h. She’s beating on her chest like she’s a proud person and she can do whatever and say whatever she wants. And I’ve stayed out of it and I’ve stayed clear of it, but antifa, you’re going to get yourselves beat the shit out of again."
Artur Pawlowski also threatens the possibility of violence, directed towards the police. In the December 28 video in which he refers to the police as Nazis and the SS and also threatens to protest at their homes, Pawlowski says:
"Sooner or later those thugs [police] will be running for their lives! Sooner or later the people will be so sick and tired that they will do something because that is human psychology. [The people] will break. In the [United] States they’re already murdering officers. They’re shooting them because there’s no other option. I mean that’s evil! That’s scary! That’s wrong! You should never come to a point when those that swear to uphold the law have become the villains and the thugs breaking the law. Because what is the option of the rest of the people? They’ll have no option but to defend their loved ones."
Despite appearing to not encourage violence, Pawlowski ends with an implied threat:
"One day justice will be served."
Carrigan, Artur Pawloski, and others are organizing another Calgary event, billed as a “super rally” on February 27. In a promotional livestream, Carrigan, Pawlowski, and Misty Wind encourage viewers from “Edmonton and all these areas” to attend. Pawlowski, holding a lit match, and Carrigan mention they will have a “big fire in the middle of the court.”
Compounding the issue is the police handling them with kid gloves. Over the weekend, Calgary Police came under scrutiny for footage in which an officer is seen in friendly conversation with anti-lockdown protest organizers. Artur Pawlowski was present, as was an attendee with a statement written on their sweatshirt, asking “Are we the new Jews?”
The frequent comparisons by the anti-lockdown movement to persecution against Jews in Nazi Germany has been characterized as antisemitic.
A video of a #yyc officer shaking hands with a speaker at an anti-mask rally this weekend, has drawn outrage online. @TaylorBraat_ speaks with researcher of health and law policy @CaulfieldTim about the message this sends to the public. pic.twitter.com/qK36zURf1t— 660 NEWS Calgary (@660NEWS) February 16, 2021
Calgary Police Service has said they will investigate any enforceable offences by the anti-lockdown demonstrators, and issued a statement shortly after the media report, saying they “were on scene to try and negotiate the protestors leaving the mall peacefully. In doing so, the officer in the video was successful in this peaceful negotiation.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is an international crisis. It has also become a flashpoint for right-wing extremists who have used the crisis to further push conspiracy theories and xenophobic messaging. In fact, right-wing extremists have been moved by these kinds of overarching events for years.
Canadian extremists who in the past used such events such as the Syrian refugee crisis, the adoption of M-103, and the Yellow Vest phenomenon as a means to spread noxious ideologies have now taken up advocating anti-mask and anti-lockdown positions. Ostensibly “pro-freedom,” the anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests have become yet another in a long line of movements that right wing-extremists across the country have embraced to radicalize already credulous people.