Lawyer who represented churches in battle over COVID mandates charged with intimidating judge

Lawyer who represented churches in battle over COVID mandates charged with intimidating judge

The lawyer allegedly involved in a surveillance campaign that targeted a Manitoba judge has been charged with intimidating a justice system participant and obstruction of justice.

The suspect, 55-year-old John Carpay, was picked up in Calgary after a Canada-wide warrant was issued for his arrest, Winnipeg police said.

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He’s accused of hiring a private investigation firm to tail Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, an allegation that stems from a high-profile constitutional challenge in 2021.

A group representing a number of Manitoba churches opposed to COVID-19 public health orders — for which police say Carpay was a legal representative — took the province to court in May 2021. Joyal presided over the matter.

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Click to play video: 'Group fighting COVID-19 restrictions admits tailing Manitoba judge'

Group fighting COVID-19 restrictions admits tailing Manitoba judge

At a special hearing in July, Carpay — in his role as president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms — apologized for the surveillance, calling it “poor judgment.”

“I accept full responsibility and sole responsibility for my decision to retain private investigation firms for observation of public officials,” he said.

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In a statement at the time, Joyal said he was “deeply concerned and troubled” by the surveillance, which he described as being followed by a vehicle after leaving the courthouse, and that a person had been to his house and spoken with his daughter. There was also information that his private cabin had been watched.

Joyal said it became clear private investigators were hired “for the clear purpose of gathering what was hoped would be potentially embarrassing information in relation to my compliance with COVID public health restrictions.”

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The court ultimately ruled against the churches that October, with Joyal saying the public health orders had met the requirements of the Public Health Act insofar as they “restricted rights and freedoms no greater than was reasonably necessary in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

The churches appealed the decision, and last month the Court of Appeal judges reserved their decision and did not indicate when they would deliver it.

Carpay, who was called to the bar in 1999, had a career in and out of politics for decades before founding the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in 2010.

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He ran provincially for the federal Reform party in the early 1990s and was a Wildrose Party candidate in Alberta in 2012. He was the Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation from 2001 to 2005.

The Justice Centre, a legal advocacy group, has been involved in controversial and high-profile cases beyond the COVID-19 challenges. Legal experts say its view of the Constitution would be considered on the political right.

It has represented pro-life groups who wanted to show graphic material on university campuses and street preachers ticketed for noise complaints.

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In a statement posted to its website Sunday the Justice Centre called the charges against Carpay “unexpected and without explanation.”

The group says Carpay has been cooperating with an investigation by the Law Society of Manitoba and notes its own board of directors took “appropriate steps to strengthen governance and oversight of the organization” while Carpay took a temporary leave of absence from his role as president.

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“The Justice Centre is deeply disappointed by the decision of Winnipeg Police to lay a criminal charge for events that took place more than 18 months ago and that are already being dealt with appropriately,” reads the statement, in part.

A spokesperson for the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench said in a statement Monday the charges against Carpay arise a police investigation into “what would be an unprecedented surveillance of a sitting judge of this court while he was presiding in a constitutional challenge.

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“While there are clear institutional interests and administration of justice concerns that arise in a case such as this, these issues will play out in the ordinary course of an impartial adjudication that may result from those charges,” the spokesperson said, declining further comment.

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Carpay is to appear before a Law Society of Manitoba hearing panel into the matter in February.

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Meanwhile, Winnipeg police said Monday they continue to investigate.

Anyone with information is asked to contact major crimes investigators at 204-986-6219 or Crimestoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

–With files from Shane Gibson and The Canadian Press

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