Premier who jailed pastors, shut churches during COVID set to speak at religious persecution event

Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney will be a featured guest at an event discussing religious persecution in March.

Premier who jailed pastors, shut churches during COVID set to speak at religious persecution event
The Canadian Press / Chad Hipolito
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The premier who oversaw the shuttering of churches and the jailing of Christian pastors in his province is set to feature at an event discussing global religious persecution.

Jason Kenney, the ousted premier of Alberta, will join Conservative MP Garnett Genuis and host Greg Musselman for a conversation about the persecutions Christians are facing around the world.

While Musselman details issues of attacks on Christians in places like China, Iran and Nigeria on his podcastCloser to the Fire with Greg Musselman, the host will only need to look to the speaker next to him to see one of the faces of religious persecution in Canada.

Before stepping down as premier and head of the United Conservative Party after narrowly surviving a leadership review, three Christian pastors were jailed in the province under the guise of COVID-19 public health restrictions.

Pastors James Coates, Tim Stephens and Artur Pawlowski saw their churches shut and faced prosecution for following their faith instead of the province's arbitrary and unscientific lockdowns.

Prior to his time as premier, Kenney served in former prime minister Stephen Harper's government where he helped fulfill a 2011 Conservative campaign promise by opening the Office of Religious Freedom, an agency under Foreign Affairs Canada.

“Activities will be centred on countries or situations where there is evidence of egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion, violations that could include violence, hatred and systemic discrimination,” reads an announcement of the launch of the Office of Religious Freedom.

Under Kenney's stewardship, however, Alberta Health Services and various police forces took aim at religious groups attempting to assert their right to freedom of religion, a right granted to Canadians in the Charter of Rights of Freedoms.

“I know how important faith is to many people’s lives. So I want to be absolutely clear: Alberta’s government will always respect and protect the fundamental freedoms of religion and worship, period,” Kenney wrote in a Feb 2021 Facebook post after Pastor James Coates of Edmonton's Grace Life Church was jailed. Authorities also seized the church and fenced off the area.

He described the incident as “unfortunate” but asserted that Coates had “flagrantly” violated provincial rules, LifeSiteNews reported.

A Rebel News-Leger poll from November 2022 found 73% of UCP supporters wanted to see COVID-related charges against pastors and small businesses dropped. 

Pastor Tim Stephens, meanwhile, was arrested twice, including in front of his wife and children, for insisting that in-person church services were an essential necessity during the pandemic.

Stephens was acquitted on the charges, and saw a growth in his congregation after the government targeted his Calgary church.

Most prominently, Pastor Artur Pawlowski was repeatedly arrested, charged and jailed during Kenney's tenure.

At the start of the pandemic, Pawlowski was fined while feeding the homeless in Calgary's downtown core, which saw him become the first client of FightTheFines.com, a civil liberties project designed to fight back against egregious COVID-19 public health charges.

The event, “A Conservation on Global Religious Persecution”, is scheduled for March 2 in Edmonton at the People's Church.

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  • By Drea Humphrey

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