The Law Society of Manitoba has barred two Alberta lawyers from practising in the province and ordered them to pay $5,000 after it received complaints they hired a private investigator to surveil a judge who was hearing a case involving COVID-19 public health orders.
The decision was handed down during a hearing on Monday morning in Winnipeg.
John Carpay, president of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, and Randal Jay Cameron faced charges from the independent regulator, including undermining public respect for the administration of justice and breach of integrity.
Ayli Klein, the law society’s counsel, told a panel at the disciplinary hearing Monday that Carpay’s and Cameron’s actions brought the administration of justice into disrepute and that banning them from practising was the most serious penalty available.
“Their misconduct is truly shocking,” she said. “It’s crucial the panel sends an unequivocal message … what they did was unprofessional.”
Both Carpay and Cameron agreed to the law society’s recommendations. Carpay pleaded guilty to breach of integrity, while Cameron admitted to professional misconduct.
Carpay told the panel he regretted his actions.
“I fully acknowledge that my instructing surveillance of Chief Justice [Glenn] Joyal was in violation of my professional obligations as a lawyer to the court and to society,” Carpay said.
Lawyers for the men say the two never meant to interfere with a case before the courts. Cameron was not present during the hearing on Monday.
Both men represented several churches that attempted in 2021 to overturn Manitoba public health orders that prevented in-person religious services during the height of the pandemic.
Carpay temporarily stepped down as president of the Justice Centre after admitting in court to hiring a private investigator to follow the judge presiding over that case, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench.
Cameron, a Calgary-based lawyer who has worked with the Justice Centre, has said he was not involved in the decision to hire the investigator but had known about it for a couple weeks.
Manitoba’s justice minister at the time described the surveillance as gravely concerning and called on the law society to investigate.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said Carpay made the unilateral decision to hire the investigator in order to ascertain whether Manitoba government officials were complying with the COVID restrictions they had imposed on citizens.
“Mr. Carpay made an error in judgment by including Chief Justice Glenn Joyal in this surveillance,” and he publicly apologized to Joyal in court in July 2021, the statement said.
“Since then, Mr. Carpay has fully co-operated with the Law Society of Manitoba, to which the Law Society of Alberta delegated authority to conduct disciplinary proceedings.”
Carpay apologized to the Law Society of Manitoba in writing in September 2021 and wrote a further letter of apology to Joyal in October 2021, the statement said.
“Mr. Carpay remains committed, as always, to the rule of law and to judicial independence,” it said. “Mr. Carpay has taken full responsibility for his actions and has accepted the penalty imposed by the Law Society of Manitoba.”
Carpay also faces criminal charges related to the same surveillance. The Winnipeg Police Service said in January that it charged him with intimidation of a justice system participant and attempting to obstruct justice.
Carpay denies criminal wrongdoing and looks forward to resolving those charges, the justice centre statement says.
“In the past two years, Mr. Carpay has himself paid for his own legal defence, including expenses related to both the Manitoba Law Society proceedings as well as the unexpected criminal charges from December of 2022,” the statement said. “No Justice Centre funds have been expended on these matters.”
Carpay’s lawyer told the panel the Law Society of Alberta would make a decision about pursuing a hearing there after the Manitoba one was completed.
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