Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott is guilty of contempt of a court order for holding a May 8 anti-lockdown rally at his restaurant that drew hundreds and led to his arrest, an Alberta Health Services lawyer told a judge on Thursday.
AHS lawyer Ashley McClelland told Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Adam Germain that Scott violated a May 6 injunction order by organizing, promoting and attending the rally.
Associate Chief Justice John Rooke granted a pre-emptive injunction against both the operator of the Mirror cafe, and all other organizers of advertised illegal gatherings and rallies that breach COVID-19 public health orders.
RCMP said that 300 to 400 people attended the Whistle Stop rally and most were not wearing masks or physical distancing, said McClelland in the hearing, which was held remotely through the court WebX system.
Another officer said at one point he “observed Mr. Scott rallying the crowd” from a stage set up outside the café. Police officers also did a walk-through at the event and recorded it on video, including Scott’s speech.
Image captures of posters that had been put on Whistle Stop’s Facebook page on May 7, including one which touted the upcoming event as “the largest protest Alberta has ever seen” were entered as evidence.
McClelland said “significant organization” went into the event, which featured food vendors, musical acts and speakers.
The order banning the gathering was “clear and unequivocal,” she said. An RCMP serving the order to Scott read it to him and he was well aware of its contents.
McClelland said it would have been easy for Scott to call off the event or tell people to go home from the stage, but he did not.
Scott’s lawyer, Chad Williamson, argued that Scott had a “reasonable excuse” for going ahead with the rally because his lawyers were not informed by AHS of the May 6 injunction hearing in Court of Queen’s Bench.
“Essentially counsel was shut out” of the hearing, he said. Scott’s lawyers are arguing the injunction is not valid in a separate action.
AHS’s lawyer argued that whether or not the injunction will be later found invalid is irrelevant because the injunction was valid when Scott allegedly ignored it.
Germain is expected to deliver his decision on the contempt accusation and on other health-restriction related court actions on June 28.
AHS recently withdrew a contempt of court application against a Calgary pastor who was arrested earlier this month on allegations of violating COVID-19 laws.
Tim Stephens was arrested May 9 for allegedly organizing a church service that was held earlier in the day at Fairview Baptist Church, which police said did not comply with public health orders.
AHS said that it withdrew its application against Stephens due to an issue of mistaken identity when the injunction was served.