COVID FREEDOM HEROES — a Western Standard seven-part series — recognizes individuals and groups from the legal, law enforcement and medical establishments, along with everyday people who stood up for Canadians' rights and freedoms during the COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates.
The fourth installment of the series highlights the efforts of Whistle Stop Cafe owner Chris Scott, who was outspoken against the lockdowns early on and fought to keep his business in Mirror, AB alive.
Scott purchased the Whistle Stop Cafe in the summer of 2019, less than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic which forced him to close his doors.
Before drawing his line in the sand, 42-year-old Scott said he followed the rules, closed his establishment, and wore masks when ordered to.
He said he was never a "COVID-denier," but as time went on and data was being released, he saw the pandemic was not turning out as had been predicted.
"When I actually decided what they were doing was ridiculous and I needed to stand up and say something was when Deena Hinshaw [Alberta's chief medical officer of health] told us that we just had to stay closed and they had no plan and no end in sight for the restrictions," Scott told the Western Standard.
"At that point I realized, OK this isn't the actions of a responsible, educated government that's doing something based on data and science. This is, you know, throwing spaghetti at the wall and destroying people's lives in the process."
Although lockdown measures were still in place during the second wave of the pandemic, Scott opened his cafe to the public in late January 2021 in defiance of the public health orders.
Scott said after a warning from his health inspector, he remained open. Eventually RCMP, Alberta Health Services (AHS), Occupational Health and Safety, and Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) got involved, said Scott.
"They used everything they could to try and force me to comply with their ridiculous rules that were obviously unconstitutional," he said.
Even after RCMP and health inspectors raided his cafe in early May 2021 and chained the restaurant doors closed, Scott continued to serve his customers on the cafe's outdoor patio.
At one point, Scott said he told one of the AHS officials who arrived to lock up his establishment, "You don't have the authority to take my property and to close my business for nothing."
"And he looked at me, he looked me in the eye and said, 'I have all the authority,'" he said.
Scott said the health official's response "totally strengthened my resolve" to fight back.
"We have UCP leadership candidates right now talking about gutting AHS and removing some of these powers because some of the things we saw them do were absolutely terrible," said Scott.
Scott called the events that unfolded in May 2021 during a planned protest at his cafe that lead to his arrest and subsequent penalties "ludicrous" and said he felt he was being treated like he "was some crazy terrorist criminal."
Scott said for him to challenge the government would "completely wipe out every penny I had," but added the government has access to an "infinite treasury" of taxpayer dollars to "fight us with our own money."
"It should not be like that, and it can't stay like that," he said.
As a strong advocate for an independent Alberta, Scott said he's working with the Alberta Prosperity Project — a not-for-profit, non-partisan educational group — to help educated Albertans on how to "effectively engage in democracy."
He said his end goal is to help "fix Alberta's position" and gain some "leverage" to negotiate better terms within confederation.
"This is not over," said Scott.
"People are out camping and golfing and boating and enjoying their summer. And while they're doing that, people are sitting in jail who stood up for themselves."
"People are facing ridiculous court challenges because they stood up for themselves. And, I think, if people can just spend a little bit of time thinking about how this is affecting other people, and really focusing on solutions going forward ... we will be so much further ahead than we have been."
Here is a timeline of Scott's activities throughout the pandemic:
Jan. 26, 2021 – Scott was charged for staying open during the pandemic lockdowns. The owner of the small cafe and gas stop in Mirror, AB, decided to open his restaurant on January 21 against public health regulations. That same day he received a ticket from authorities.
He was ordered to make a court appearance on April 22 and faced penalties ranging from a fine to imprisonment.
Scott said his gas station is the only one servicing the town 50 km northeast of Red Deer.
April 30, 2021 – RCMP officers and AGLC inspectors raided the Whistle Stop Cafe. The Friday morning raid saw officers seize all alcohol from the establishment.
May 5, 2021 - RCMP and Alberta Health inspectors raided the Whistle Stop Cafe early in the morning and chained the doors closed while only one staff member was on the premises.
At the time, Scott said he had $75,000 worth of inventory “being held hostage by the AHS.”
When authorities left, Scott was back in business serving “Freedom Burgers” at the cafe's outdoor patio.
May 6, 2021 – The Alberta government filed for, and was granted, an injunction to ban a weekend protest planned by Scott at the cafe.
The Court of Queen’s Bench granted a pre-emptive injunction against Scott because the restaurant planned to host a rally over the weekend called the “Save Alberta Campout Protest.” The injunction was granted at the request of AHS under Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Meanwhile that same day, Scott announced he would seek the nomination for the Lacombe-Ponoka constituency for the Wildrose Independence Party (WIP), currently held by UCP’s Ron Orr, in the next provincial election.
May 8, 2021 – Chris Scott was handcuffed by RCMP and arrested at the end of the “Save Alberta Campout Protest” that saw more than 1,500 supporters come to protest the Alberta government’s COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.
May 11, 2021 – Scott was released from jail after his weekend arrest following what authorities called an “illegal” protest at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
May 20, 2021 – Health Minister Tyler Shandro said he ordered officials to go after high profile lockdown breakers, likely including Chris Scott, although the Kenney government has repeatedly said it does not direct prosecutors for individual cases.
May 29, 2021 – After Scott advised AHS he would be gaining access to his restaurant to clean up after someone broke the glass in his front door and dispose of spoiled food, the owner said he was shocked when AHS and RCMP sped into the parking lot and re-padlocked the restaurant.
Scott said there was “no reason” for the incident because he had informed AHS he would comply with a court order.
“We were cleaning up a mess in the restaurant. That’s it,” said Scott.
June 7, 2021 – Scott recreated Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s Sky Palace Dinner from the roof of his locked cafe to mock the premier’s “working supper” that appeared to break COVID-19 gathering rules.
June 30, 2021 – Scott said he paid $250 to join a fundraising dinner for the UCP on July 2 in an effort to get a conversation with both premier Kenney and Health Minister Shandro.
Aug 10, 2021 – Scott launched a lawsuit against AHS and CMOH Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“It’s official. I’ve filed a claim against the Crown, the CMOH, and AHS in response to their blatant violations of my, and YOUR, charter rights and freedoms,” Scott posted on social media after the documents were filed in Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench.
“How can the government hide behind legislation that explicitly states that the Alberta Bill of Rights must be upheld in application of the act and then instead trample all over it without justification?"
Oct. 13, 2021 – Scott, along with Street Church pastor Artur Pawlowski and his brother Dawid, were handed hefty fines along with probationary periods for fighting COVID-19 restrictions.
Scott was handed a $20,000 fine and an 18-month probation period. Artur Pawlowski was fined $23,000 and given an 18-month probation while his brother, Dawid was fined $10,000 and probation of 12 months.
On that same day, Scott connected with Dr. Daniel Nagase and posted a video with the banned doctor who had been treating COVID-19 patients in a rural Alberta hospital with ivermectin. The two discussed AHS “interfering” with doctors’ rights to treat their patients as they see fit based on their medical judgement and doctor-patient relationship.
Oct. 20, 2021 – Scott launched a new anti-COVID lockdown advocacy group – Full Steam Ahead — a non-profit membership association linking individuals and businesses to lawyers.
“We want individuals and businesses to team up with a group of lawyers that are ready to take on the government and companies that are stripping away our rights and freedoms," said Scott.
"And we want to help those individuals and businesses that are being discriminated against in order to keep their job or their business running."
February 2022 – Scott travelled to Ottawa to participate in the Freedom Convoy. While there he provided a live update for the Western Standard.
July 22, 2022 – A panel of three Alberta judges ruled in favour of appeals by Scott and pastor Arthur Pawlowski and his brother Dawid.
Scott’s penalties — three days in prison and a probationary period of eight months — were reduced to time served and his fines were dropped from $20,000 to $10,000. Although Scott was originally ordered to pay court costs for AHS, that ruling was overturned and both Scott and AHS will be required to pay their own costs.
The decision also tossed earlier contempt of court rulings against Pawlowski and his brother Dawid for breaching an injunction prohibiting public gatherings during COVID-19 lockdowns.
The court ordered fines paid by the Pawlowskis' — $23,000 for Artur and $10,000 for Dawid — to be returned and overturned costs ordered against the brothers totalling $15,733.50. AHS has been ordered to pay its own costs.
Tune in Saturday, August 6 @ 10 a.m. for part 5 of the Western Standard's COVID FREEDOM HEROES series where several law enforcement personnel will be featured including an interview with former Calgary police officer Brian Denison and ex-RCMP Cpl. Daniel Bulford.