Lawyer charged in relation to spying on Manitoba judge


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An Alberta lawyer has been charged with obstruction-of-justice offences nearly a year and a half after he admitted to hiring a private investigator to spy on a Manitoba judge.

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An Alberta lawyer has been charged with obstruction-of-justice offences nearly a year and a half after he admitted to hiring a private investigator to spy on a Manitoba judge.

John Carpay, founder of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, turned himself in to Calgary police on Dec. 30 after he was informed about a warrant being issued for his arrest, the centre says in an online statement.

Gerard Kennedy, assistant professor at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of law, said he has never seen a case in which a lawyer faced criminal consequences for their actions within a legal proceeding.

“It probably is not unprecedented, but it is exceptionally rare,” Kennedy said.

“I think it goes to the seriousness of what Mr. Carpay is alleged to have done. Having said that, proving that he intended to obstruct justice beyond a reasonable doubt will be challenging. So, I am very curious what the entirety of the police and Crown’s case is.”

On Monday, the Winnipeg Police Service confirmed Carpay, 55, has been charged with intimidation of a justice system participant and attempting to obstruct justice in relation to a plan to track Manitoba Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal. The intent was to see if Joyal obeyed provincial public-health orders while he presided over a high-profile legal challenge that sought to have the orders declared unconstitutional.

The police service hasn’t said when the warrant for Carpay’s arrest was issued and didn’t respond to Free Press questions Monday.

The investigation, which was started by officers in the major crimes unit in July 2021, remains ongoing.

In its statement, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms described the charges as “unexpected and without explanation.”

The centre said it “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. It is doubly disappointing that it was decided that these actions should take place during the holiday season when Mr. Carpay is spending time with his family.

“Oddly, Mr. Carpay’s sole bail condition states that he cannot contact Chief Justice Joyal, an individual that Mr. Carpay has not had any communication with apart from the apologies that he issued in 2021,” the centre stated.

Carpay, who founded the libertarian-focused justice centre in 2010, apologized to Joyal during a special court hearing held virtually in July 2021 after the judge discovered he was being followed.

The justice centre had backed a constitutional challenge launched in Manitoba on behalf of seven churches that were protesting COVID-19 public-health restrictions.

Carpay admitted he hired private investigators to track Joyal and unnamed senior Manitoba politicians to see if they were defying the orders.

The churches wanted the court to strike down orders, which they argued unfairly limited religious freedom by banning or restricting in-person services, to prevent transmission of the virus.

Joyal rejected the churches’ arguments, and the case was appealed to the Manitoba Court of Appeal. The appeal court reserved its decision on Dec. 13, 2022.

The timing of that appeal may explain why criminal charges were laid now, nearly 18 months later, said Kennedy.

The executive assistant to the chief justice issued an email statement Monday: “The Manitoba Court of King’s Bench is aware that charges have been recently laid against a lawyer from Alberta. The charges arise from an investigation by the Winnipeg Police Service into the alleged and what would be an unprecedented surveillance of a sitting judge of this court while he was presiding in a constitutional challenge to a number of COVID-19 public health restrictions. 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. To that end… there will be no further comment on this matter.”

Carpay is licensed to practise law in Alberta, and he was investigated by the law societies in Alberta and Manitoba.

A professional misconduct hearing for Carpay and Jay Cameron, another lawyer for the justice centre, is set to take place Feb. 8 to 10 in relation to the hiring of a private investigator.

Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman filed misconduct complaints against Carpay and Cameron following the revelations in Manitoba court in July 2021. The complaints flagged potential grounds for criminal charges, and Warman has continued to follow misconduct allegations involving lawyers who work for the justice Centre.

On Monday, Warman said he’s not surprised by the charges, but is still shocked by the case.

“The idea that a lawyer would think it was acceptable, in any universe, that they should go and hire a private investigator to stalk the chief justice when they’re appearing before him — even if they weren’t appearing before him…. I think it would shock any member of the public. If you’re a lawyer and you think that’s OK, you’ve got serious problems with your ethics,” Warman said.

Katie May

Katie May

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.


Updated on Monday, January 2, 2023 9:12 PM CST: Adds statement from the executive assistant to the chief justice

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