10.52: Declaration of civil contempt

Case Summary

Alberta Health Services (“AHS”) applied to hold Artur Pawlowski (“Pawlowski”) in contempt of a Court Order (the “Order”). Pawlowski was a Calgary-based pastor with Street Church Evangelism Ministries International Foundation (the “Church”).

The Church operated out of a Calgary property on Saturdays (the “Property”). The Order allowed AHS to inspect the Property pursuant to section 59 of the Public Health Act, RSA 2000 c P-37 (the “Act”). The Order restrained Pawlowski from obstructing, molesting, hindering, or interfering with the inspection powers of the executive officers under the Act.

Pawlowski admitted that he did not permit an AHS Officer to enter the Property. However, one of Pawlowski’s arguments was that he had a reasonable excuse for not allowing AHS to enter the Property. Pawlowski also argued that AHS must factually negate a reasonable excuse to succeed on the contempt Application. The Court disagreed based on the Alberta Court of Appeal Decision in Envacon Inc. v 829693 Alberta Ltd., 2018 ABCA 313 (“Envacon”).

In Envacon, the Court of Appeal stated that a reasonable excuse is considered only after the party making the Application for contempt has proven a prima facie breach. Rule 10.52(3) sets requirements for a Court to declare a person in civil contempt and includes the phrase “without reasonable excuse”. The Court of Appeal considered whether Rule 10.52(3) alters the burden on the party alleging contempt or imposes a burden on the alleged contemnor. The Court of Appeal determined that, in many cases, the moving party’s burden will be met by proving non-compliance with the Order because the Court can infer “no reasonable excuse” absent persuasive evidence to the contrary.

Based on Envacon, the Court determined that Pawlowski’s evidence did not constitute a reasonable excuse. Absent persuasive evidence to the contrary, the Court inferred that Pawlowski had no reasonable excuse for refusing to allow AHS to enter the Property to conduct an inspection. The Court therefore found that Pawlowski had breached the Order and was in contempt of it.

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