Head of Alberta-based Justice Centre takes leave after paying investigator to follow Manitoba judge

The president of a group representing multiple churches across the country fighting COVID-19 public health orders in court is taking indefinite leave after admitting he hired a private investigator to follow a judge presiding over the case in Manitoba. 

The board of the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said Tuesday morning saying that, effective immediately, Calgary-based lawyer John Carpay was taking an indefinite period of leave.

“On Monday July 12, 2021, the members of the Board of Directors of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (Justice Centre) were informed that a private investigator had been retained by Justice Centre President John Carpay to conduct surveillance on senior government officials, including Chief Justice Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, in regard to their compliance with COVID regulations,” the board said in a release.

“Surveilling public officials is not what we do. We condemn what was done without reservation. We apologize to Chief Justice Joyal for the alarm, disturbance, and violation of privacy. All such activity has ceased and will not reoccur in future.”

Carpay’s admission came after Manitoba’s chief justice, Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, said he was tailed by a private investigator in an attempt to catch him breaking COVID-19 rules in order to embarrass him while he presides over a court challenge related to the province’s lockdown measures. 

Joyal revealed the information during a hearing Monday morning for the case, which was brought forward by seven rural Manitoba churches represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

Carpay later said it was his organization that had retained a private investigator to follow Joyal as part of their efforts to hold government officials accountable, although he said it was not an attempt to influence the decision in the case. 

He also said the organization had hired private investigators to follow a number of other public officials in order to catch them breaking public health regulations.

Carpay apologized Monday for the error in judgment.

Surveillance raises privacy, obstruction issues, judge warns

During the virtual hearing, Joyal said he realized he was being followed by a vehicle on July 8 when leaving the Manitoba law courts building in downtown Winnipeg and driving around the city. 

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. (Canadian Press)

He said the private investigator even followed him 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. 

Joyal said this revelation would not influence his decision in the case, but said it would be “unthinkable” to not share it with the court because of its potential implications in the administration of justice. 

He said the surveillance of his home and intrusion of his privacy raise serious concerns about the privacy and safety of judges generally. This type of activity could also be seen as obstruction of justice, either direct or indirect, he said. 

“I am deeply concerned that this type of private investigative surveillance conduct could or would be used in any case involving any presiding judge in a high-profile adjudication,” he said. 

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. 

Justice Centre promises review

The board of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said Tuesday that an interim president would be appointed.

It also said there would also be a review of operations and decision-making at the organization.

Jay Cameron, another lawyer representing the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in the court challenge, also apologized to Joyal for his role.

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