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Calgary street preacher Artur Pawlowski speaks outside of a Lethbridge, Alta., courthouse on Tuesday after he was found guilty on charges related to the 2022 protest blockade at the Coutts, Alta., border crossing.Ian Martens/The Globe and Mail

A Calgary street preacher has been convicted of mischief for egging on protesters blocking the Canada-U.S. border in southern Alberta last year, a decision that revived a political headache for the United Conservative Party on the second day of the provincial election campaign.

Justice Gordon Krinke on Tuesday also found Artur Pawlowski guilty of breaching a release order. Authorities charged Mr. Pawlowski after he delivered a speech to protesters in the Smuggler’s Saloon in Coutts, Alta. The group blocked Highway 4 as they protested government-imposed vaccine requirements and other public-health restrictions tied to the coronavirus pandemic in early 2022.

“I am satisfied Mr. Pawlowski intended to incite the audience to continue the blockade … intended to incite protesters to commit mischief,” Justice Krinke said as he delivered his verdict in Lethbridge.

Alberta’s 31st general election takes place May 29 and the UCP and New Democratic Party are in a tough battle.

UCP Leader Danielle Smith previously promised amnesty for pastors and others facing charges tied to COVID-19 violations and, in a January phone call, told Mr. Pawlowski she asked prosecutors “almost weekly” about such cases. As voters mull their electoral options, Ms. Smith’s critics want to link her to the preacher, who previously said the 2013 floods that swept southern Alberta were a result of Jesus weeping for the “perversions of homosexuality.”

Dave Prisco, a spokesman for the UCP, on Tuesday said Ms. Smith will not comment on Mr. Pawlowski’s conviction and the possibility for a path to amnesty because an independent body is investigating her actions.

“She will not be commenting on this matter as it is the subject of an ongoing ethics commissioner review and that process must be respected,” he said in a statement.

Ms. Smith, prior to taking over as leader of the UCP, railed against government restrictions during the pandemic. She won the race to replace then-UCP leader Jason Kenney in part owing to her promise to provide amnesty for people charged with COVID-19 violations.

As premier, she had an 11-minute phone call with Mr. Pawlowski, during which she said she informed the deputy minister of her “dissatisfaction” with the Crown prosecutors’ tactics. A recording of the conversation was posted to the preacher’s YouTube on Jan. 26 and news of the recording broke in late March.

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Ms. Smith, in interviews and statements in late 2022 and early 2023, said she met with prosecutors about cases related to the pandemic. She later corrected herself, saying she did not mean that she spoke with Crown prosecutors directly, but with the Justice Minister and senior officials. Her team then applied this explanation to the language she used in her conversation with Mr. Pawlowski.

The UCP Leader has said she has restricted her involvement to reminding her Justice Minister and top justice senior civil servant – as she is free to do – of the overarching guideline that any case should be pursued only if it is in the public interest and has a reasonable chance of success.

Ms. Smith, in the days after the Pawlowski recording attracted attention, refused to answer questions about the call on the grounds that she might sue the CBC for a story alleging a staff member in her office sent a series of e-mails to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, challenging prosecutors’ assessment and direction on cases tied to Coutts. Ms. Smith gave the CBC until April 28 to retract and apologize. The CBC stood by its reporting and a spokesman for the organization on Tuesday said Ms. Smith’s office has not further pursued a legal case.

Ms. Smith, on her weekly call-in radio show in early April, tweaked her story, saying she believed she was talking to Mr. Pawlowski in his capacity as a fellow leader of a political party. The preacher, at the time, was the head of a fringe outfit without a chance of electoral success.

Mr. Pawlowski faces another charge under Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defence Act of willfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure. He was the first person charged under the act, which the UCP introduced to target protesters trying to thwart the oil and gas industry by blocking railways or through other means. At the time, critics charged the act was unconstitutional.

Justice Krinke said he couldn’t rule on the CIDA charge Tuesday because the defence has given notice of a constitutional challenge.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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