Calgary

Group representing Manitoba churches in COVID-19 challenge reinstates president who had judge followed

A group representing multiple churches across the country fighting COVID-19 public health orders announced Monday that its president has been reinstated after taking leave upon admitting he hired private investigators to follow both a judge presiding over a case in Manitoba and some senior government officials.

John Carpay back after taking leave in July from Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms

The Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said Monday that it welcomed back lawyer John Carpay, who took leave in mid-July upon admitting he hired private investigators to follow both a judge presiding over a court challenge to COVID-19 rules by churches in Manitoba and some senior government officials. (CBC)

A group representing multiple churches across the country fighting COVID-19 public health orders announced Monday that its president has been reinstated after taking leave upon admitting he hired private investigators to follow both a judge presiding over a case in Manitoba and some senior government officials.

The Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) said Monday that its founder, Calgary-based lawyer John Carpay, would be "welcomed back" to resume his responsibilities as president.

"The board recognizes that the organization needs to end the uncertainty that comes with temporary leadership, to enable the Justice Centre to work more effectively in dealing with unprecedented challenges in our society," the JCCF said in a news release Monday.

"The board is also seeking to streamline and refresh its membership to better respond to demands on the organization."

Repeated attempts by CBC News to reach the JCCF for additional comment on Monday were not returned.

Investigator tried to catch judge breaking COVID rules

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."

The JCCF had announced in mid-July that Carpay was taking an indefinite leave and would be replaced by interim president Lisa Bildy.

The announcement came after Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench said he had been tailed by a private investigator in an attempt to catch him breaking COVID-19 rules in order to embarrass him while he presided over a court challenge related to the province's lockdown measures. 

Joyal revealed the information during a hearing for the case, which was brought forward by seven rural Manitoba churches represented by the JCCF.

Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said he was deeply disturbed to learn a private investigator had been hired to follow him while he was hearing a case brought forward by seven rural Manitoba churches represented by the JCCF. (The Canadian Press)

The judge said he realized he was being followed by a vehicle when leaving the Manitoba Courts building in downtown Winnipeg and driving around the city. 

A private investigator even followed Joyal to his private residence and had a young boy ring his doorbell while he wasn't home in an attempt to confirm where he lives. The private investigator also followed him to his cottage, Joyal said. 

JCCF board said it didn't know what Carpay had done

At the beginning of the hearing, Joyal said he did not know who hired the private investigation agency and that it refused to reveal that information. He also said Winnipeg police were investigating. 

But after a break in the hearing, Carpay said it was his organization that had retained the private investigator to follow Joyal as part of their efforts to hold government officials accountable. 

Carpay apologized for the error in judgment.

Jay Cameron, another lawyer representing the JCCF in the court challenge, became aware of the surveillance a few weeks ago and also apologized to Joyal.

The JCCF board said it was unaware that Carpay had hired private investigators and condemned it.

"Surveilling public officials is not what we do. We condemn what was done without reservation," the JCCF board said in a release at the time, and apologized to Joyal "for the alarm, disturbance, and violation of privacy.

"All such activity has ceased and will not reoccur in future."

Allegations that Carpay breached lawyers' codes of conduct

Carpay's actions raised questions over whether he had breached provincial law societies' codes of conduct, which say a lawyer can't hire anyone to try and influence a court or judge, and could see him reprimanded, fined or even disbarred. 

Ottawa human rights lawyer Richard Warman filed a complaint with the law societies of Manitoba and Alberta about the incident, calling it the "most egregious case of professional misconduct"  he had heard in quite some time.

Others questioned whether Carpay's actions could have negative consequences for the JCCF's status as a registered charity.

Blumberg says it's vital for the charity sector to have public trust, and incidents like this can undermine that.

Carpay is a former provincial director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

He has previously made headlines for comparing Nazi swastikas to LGBTQ pride flags, and challenging gay-straight alliances — peer-support groups that are meant to tackle bullying and provide supportive environments for LGBTQ students — as "ideological sexual clubs."

In 2017, before he became premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney compared Carpay's work to that of civil rights icon Rosa Parks — but he has since condemned remarks made by Carpay.

With files from Sarah Petz, Sarah Rieger, CBC Manitoba and The Canadian Press

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