A court has seen video of a Calgary pastor encouraging truckers to keep blocking the Canada-U.S. border to protest COVID-19 restrictions because the world was watching.
The trial for Artur Pawlowski began Thursday in southern Alberta on charges of breaching a release order and mischief for inciting people to block public property at the border crossing at Coutts, Alta.
He is also charged under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act with the wilfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure.
The blockade that began in late January 2022 paralyzed Alberta's main U.S. border crossing for more than two weeks .
The Crown's case against Pawlowski consists of an agreed statement of facts and the 20-minute video of the speech that the pastor gave to protesters on Feb. 3, 2022.
In it, Pawlowski pleads with truckers to stay the course and not leave the protest, which was aimed at COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.
Pawlowski visited the group at Smuggler's Saloon, a location that became their headquarters. At the time, protesters were considering to leave Coutts for Edmonton to demonstrate in front of the legislature.
"I believe that the eyes of the world are fixed on this place right here. That's right — this little pitiful piece of land," Pawlowski told a cheering crowd in the video played for provincial court Judge Gordon Krinke in Lethbridge, Alta.
"The eyes of the world are fixed right here on you guys. You are the heroes. Don't you dare go breaking the line.
"For the first time in two years, you have the power. You pack your stuff, you go to Edmonton and you will be lost."
The pastor also told the crowd there weren't enough police or a big enough army to deal with the protesters. He was arrested days later.
Pawlowski was greeted by about 300 supporters outside court Thursday before trial. Some held Canadian flags and signs reading "Free Pastor Pawlowski."
Pawlowski told the group he had no regrets.
"I told the people this is a peaceful uprising. No guns. No swords. I stand by what I said a year ago," he said outside of court.
"I am proud that I stood with the people that simply stood for their God and state. Our rights do not belong to the politicians or bureaucrats or even judges or Crown prosecutors. They belong to us, the people."
Prosecutor Steve Johnston said the court must determine whether Pawlowski is guilty because he was a party to the events, and the Crown argues that he was.
The defence said it would not be calling witnesses in the trial, and closing arguments were expected Thursday afternoon.