Justice Centre, president sued by former employee who says organization caused him moral distress

A former employee of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms alleges he was harassed by its president after leaving his job over a case he says didn't morally align with its mandate, and because of what he says was a fixation on litigation against the LGBTQ community.

Centre and president reject allegations, say issues were not as described by employee

John Carpay and his Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are being sued by a former employee who alleges he was harassed and morally distressed at the centre. (Brooks DeCillia/CBC)

A former employee of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms alleges he was harassed by its president after leaving his job over a case he says didn't morally align with its mandate, and because of what he says was a fixation on litigation against the LGBTQ community. 

Michael Kennedy is suing the centre and its president, John Carpay, for wrongful dismissal. He says he resigned due to being mistreated and issues with work the centre was championing. 

Carpay founded the JCCF in 2010. The organization describes itself as on a mission to defend "the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education."

"[Kennedy] stated that the Justice Centre had significantly departed from its mission statement and core values, and that it was no longer a principled and unbiased defender of constitutional freedoms," the statement of claim for the legal action reads. 

"[He] also took issue with using human rights complaints as a tool to achieve legal ends, and the Justice Centre's apparent obsession over transgenderism and the LGBTQ movement."

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The centre and Carpay deny all of Kennedy's allegations, say there were no fundamental changes to the mandate of his employment and have called on him to prove his claims in court. 

Kennedy worked for the centre from 2011 until 2019 in various roles, including as its communications director.

After what the lawsuit calls years of unhealthy work expectations of Kennedy (including working overnight hours), it alleges that in the fall of 2018, Carpay suggested he resign from the centre to protect it amidst ongoing pushback over comments Carpay had made. He had compared the LGBTQ community to communism and Nazi Germany, as a hostility to individual freedoms.

Kennedy had no part in those comments, he says. They deny this discussion of resignation.

The JCCF had announced in July of this year that Carpay was taking an indefinite leave after admitting he hired private investigators to follow both a judge presiding over a COVID-19 restriction case in Manitoba and also some senior government officials.

Carpay was reinstated as president in August. 

Human rights complaint concerns

In 2019, the centre took on representation of a human rights complaint from Ottawa. Kennedy alleges Carpay had previously regarded human rights tribunals as "kangaroo courts," and the centre had previously regarded them as outside its mandate of defending individual rights.

The Buffone case was a Ontario human rights code complaint made by a family on behalf of their daughter, alleging her schoolteacher had said, "There's no such thing as boys and girls." They said that comment discriminated against the daughter on the basis of sex and gender. 

"The plaintiff also expressed his concern that litigating the Buffones' case would feed into the growing public perception that the Justice Centre's charter-oriented mission is a façade to justify attacking the LGBTQ community," the statement of claim says. 

"This put the plaintiff in an untenable situation and caused him serious mental and moral distress."

The JCCF provided its statement of defence to CBC News in response to an interview request.

"As the JCCF grew and gained more supporters, it was able to take on more litigation and advocacy work," it reads. 

"The JCCF expanded its approach to include participation in the human rights complaint process. This expansion was determined by the JCCF to be consistent with its mandate."

Kennedy resigned from the centre shortly after, citing that case and suffering from "severe mental stress" caused by the justice centre and Carpay's "mistreatment."

Kennedy says his doctor had also recommended he cease working for the centre.

In the months following his resignation, Kennedy alleges Carpay threatened to tell potential employers he was a poor worker, and called him "unprofessional, impulsive and destructive." The lawsuit also alleges Carpay harassed Kennedy and gossiped about him to prominent donors, activists and organizational leaders in libertarian-conservative circles. 

The defence statement responds that Kennedy registered his issues with the Buffone case only a month after he was informed the centre was examining it, and at no point was his approval required on the file as the board makes decisions on which cases to represent.

It also alleges that Kennedy attempted to extort the centre by withholding content on his personal computer after his resignation, which the lawsuit says was in reference to a comment he would be selling it to help with bills. 

The statement calls his resignation "abrupt and wholly unanticipated" and says Carpay believed his comments in response to his departure to be truthful.

It also rejects that he was compelled to work overnight hours, instead saying timely responses were required in his communications role. They said the centre was unaware of Kennedy's mental health struggles and allege their conduct did not cause him mental harm.

Case against ideological organization 'not common' 

"It's definitely not common and that's because Canada, unlike the United States, does not have a lot of organizations that are ideologically driven, especially on the right wing end of the spectrum," said Kathryn Marshall, the plaintiff's lawyer, who practises with Milburn & Associates. 

"It's going to be a unique, novel and, I think, very important case, especially as we start to see a lot more focus being put on just healthy and safe work environments."

Kennedy is arguing constructive dismissal, indicating that while he was not directly fired that changing of the basis of his employment — the centre departing from the core mission he says he was hired to support — forced him to quit. 

Kennedy says he suffered anxiety attacks as a result of the centre's "malicious" treatment of him and Carpay's "flagrant and outrageous" conduct. 

He's suing the centre for $71,000 in salary and damages of $250,000, and an additional $150,000 in damages from Carpay specifically. 

The centre and Carpay are asking for Kennedy's lawsuit to be dismissed with costs.