Manitoba’s Legislature Building in Winnipeg (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Responding to the revelation last week that the founder and president of the so-called Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms hired a private eye to follow the chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, supposedly to see if he broke any COVID-19 restrictions, the province’s Justice Minister has called for the provincial law society to launch an investigation of all 10 of the Calgary-based organization’s lawyers.

JCCF founder John Carpay was in court last Monday representing seven Manitoba churches that object to COVID-19 restrictions on constitutional grounds when Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, the presiding judge in the case, paused to reveal that someone had been following him and casing his house.

That was the point at which Mr. Carpay admitted it was he who had hired the private gumshoe. 

Manitoba Justice Minister Cameron Friesen (Photo: Government of Manitoba).

As a result, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen said in his terse press release Thursday, “as Attorney General, I have written to the Law Society of Manitoba to request that it initiate an investigation into the conduct of lawyers associated with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.”

“It is gravely concerning that a private investigator was hired to conduct surveillance of a member of the judiciary, ostensibly to embarrass or intimidate the judge,” Mr. Friesen said.

“This is an obvious invasion of privacy and it is difficult to believe that these actions were not intended to influence the outcome of the court case,” he stated. (Emphasis added.) 

“The lawyers involved must be held accountable for their actions, in order to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice, to protect the integrity of our independent judiciary and uphold the rule of law in Canada,” the Justice Minister concluded. 

This would suggest Mr. Carpay’s willingness to fall on his sword as soon as the exploits of the still-unnamed private dick were revealed are unlikely to prevent further scrutiny of the JCCF, a registered charity that describes itself as “a voice of freedom in Canada’s courtrooms.” 

The JCCF typically represents litigants associated with social conservative causes, such as defending activities by groups opposed to women’s reproductive rights, challenging “the government’s health care monopoly,” opposition to classroom protections for LGBTQ+ students, and more recently pandemic public health measures that place restrictions on church services. 

Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms Interim President Lisa Bildy (Photo: LinkedIn).

The names on the JCCF’s “Endorsements” page on its website provide an illuminating indicator of where the organization sits in Canada’s political spectrum. 

Mr. Carpay, long a close political ally of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and other high-profile Conservatives in this province, has taken what the JCCF describes as “an indefinite period of leave.”

Interim JCCF President Lisa Bildy responded immediately to Mr. Friesen’s statement with a press release asserting spying on the judge was “a unilateral decision made by one person in the organization” and that no board member or staff lawyer other than Litigation Director Jay Cameron knew about it. 

“These facts have been stated in court and in our public statements on the matter,” she asserted. “Nevertheless … earlier today, the Manitoba Attorney General called for all lawyers at the Justice Centre to be investigated by the Manitoba Law Society.

“These efforts to damage the professional reputations of our lawyers are groundless and unjustified,” she complained. 

Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms President and founder John Carpay (Photo: JCCF).

“Mr. Carpay has owned this mistake and will deal with whatever flows from it. In the meantime,” she continued aspirationally, “many people in this country are counting on the Justice Centre to continue its work.”

In an editorial the morning after Justice Joyal’s courtroom revelation, the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper argued that “hiring a PI to follow a judge – not just any judge, but the judge handling the case that you are currently arguing in court – suggests very few possible motivations other than an effort to intimidate the judge in order to affect the outcome of the case.”

Mr. Carpay’s action, said the Free Press’s editorialist, “is, in no uncertain terms, an outrage. Such an assault on the judicial process cannot be allowed to go unpunished.”

They say the wheels of justice turn slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

Perhaps we’re about to see just how granular things can get. From the JCCF’s perspective, the auguries do not seem promising. 

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  1. “In an editorial the morning after Justice Joyal’s courtroom revelation, the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper argued that “hiring a PI to follow a judge – not just any judge, but the judge handling the case that you are currently arguing in court – suggests very few possible motivations other than an effort to intimidate the judge in order to affect the outcome of the case.””

    Meanwhile, in Calgary, there hasn’t been a mention of any part of the episode in that chronicler of all that is right, the Calgary Herald.

  2. Au contraire. This response is weak. The legal implications of this outrageous action of the JCCF are so serious that the Conservative Manitoba justice minister had to appear to be doing something. But “asking” the group which represents lawyers to investigate some of their own is just setting this up to be swept under the carpet. We even have Ms. Bildy telling us what the investigation is going to find – no fault, no foul.

    I’ll believe they’re taking this serious when there’s a real investigation with charges laid.

    If you or I had done something like this we would have been thrown in the slammer before you could say “voice of freedom in Canada’s courtrooms.”

    1. You are very right Mickey if it was you or I we know exactly what would happen but being a lawyer – they are all in it together and I doubt he will suffer any major consequences. The usual.
      John Carpay deserves to be disbarred for all that he has been doing for a long time.

    2. ” the Conservative Manitoba justice minister had to appear to be doing something”

      I wonder if it is possible this whole thing is intended to be a distraction. I really can’t see all the lawyers on the JCCF board going along with following a sitting judge, so I think it is quite likely John Carpay did act alone. If so, Mr. Friesen can initiate an investigation into people who are innocent, and take attention away from John Carpay.

      I don’t know how sympathetic Mr. Friesen is to the social conservative movement, but the CBC article linked below reports how when he was health minister he sidestepped abortion questions. The Wikipedia article on Mr. Friesen reports how, again when he was Health Minister, he refused to acknowledge the seriousness of Covid. Both instances suggest he could very easily be sympathetic to the JCCF’s goals.

  3. “These efforts to damage the professional reputations of our lawyers are groundless and unjustified,” she complained.

    That’s hilarious, considering that the JCCF’s professional snoops were attempting to do this to the judge presiding over a case involving the JCCF. Presumably John Carpay has wiped that smile off his face, and the child allegedly involved in this skullduggery has been reassigned to summer camp or swimming lessons until school starts in the fall.

    I can’t wait for the Spy in the Wild episode about this one. I can already imagine the life-size Carpay creature with the strange mechanical eyes, hiding in some bushes.

  4. The attorney general of Manitoba is asking the Law Society of that province to investigate the conduct of the lawyers of the JCCF, and the interim lead squawker of that outfit Bildy says: “These efforts to damage the professional reputations of our lawyers are groundless and unjustified”.

    Amazing to me how the tortured nutter brain works. The Manitoba AG is trying to damage the professonal reputations of JCCF lawyers, is he? That’s a bit of a crazy inference, and shows Bildy seems unable to see the difference between JCCF lawyers’ conduct being investigated, and a dreamt-up notion that the MB AG is trying to damage their professonal reputations in some concerted way. How far out of whack does your logic have to be to utter a stupid statement like that?

    It all seems to be rather like all right-wing nonsense exposed to the light of day. Claim the “other side” is out to get you and deny everything while offering up a scapegoat for ritual sacrifice. In this particular case, it all falls flat considering that the political stripes of the dinosaurs running the MB provincial government are on the surface, at least, not far off that of the UCP government whose leader is an apparent political ally of the founder of the JCCF. Gives an idea how egregiously far off the level-playing field mark Mr Carpay’s actions were. It is precisely to find out what the heck the rest of the outfit’s principals knew in reality about this that the MB AG wants the MB Law Society to investigate. Anyone can claim they had nothing to do with anything, that’s what a plea of “Not Guilty” is in court. Doesn’t stop trials going ahead.

    Speaking of tawdriness, will the RCMP ever come to a conclusion in their investigation of possible voter fraud in the UCP leadership selection? Or will it be like our toothless CRA investigators looking at non-tax payments by some members of our plutocracy who run Canada for pleasure and profit, and concluding, hey! Nothing to see here! To me, it’s all part of the same seedy grubbiness that has characterized Canadian government from the very beginning, and which only now is being slowly exposed to the light of day. The self-selected privileged few running amok as if the law didn’t apply to them wasn’t on my mind when I swore an oath of loyalty when I became a citizen of Canada in 1965. I believed the “story” of how wonderful Canada was. Silly me.

  5. This seems like it’s some sort of a bad movie, or a bad soap opera, but it’s not. Things are getting stranger all the time.

  6. JCCF has done the PI bit before with other government officials & employees. Bildy’s overly specific denial is designed to deflect and to keep one’s eye on the tip of the iceberg, and away from the massive rot below.

  7. I just checked. STILL not a peep on the Law Society of Alberta’s web site.

    Somebody check Twitter. (I refuse to use social media.)

  8. Until I got into the details here I assumed that “Justice Minister” investigating Alberta-based lawyers was, well, the ALBERTA Justice Minister.

  9. He is also a fine graduate of the University of Calgary right up there with Jason Kenney, Stephen Harper, and Rob Anders!!! If this organization wants to die on a hill for the right of people to get people sick with COVID, then be my guest. I think this incident with Mr. Carpay should strip away any illusions that this is a group that really is legitimate in any real sense. I think we should take anything they say with a pitcher of salt.

  10. Perhaps all the controversy for the JCCF is not over yet, despite Mr. Carpay’s quick sacrifice, voluntary or not.

    If this happened in Alberta, this likely wouldn’t have raised so much controversy. The influence of Conservative politics still is deep in many institutions here even though the long ruling PC party is gone. The JCCP’s big mistake was to try these shenanigans in another province, where they had little political influence or resonance.

    So yet again the fantasies of the far right wing crowd here in Alberta start to crumble when they face the reality of the outside world beyond the more enabling political environment of this province.

    1. Oh yeah Dave, it’s all over. The justice minister of a Conservative Manitoba government has basically laid it out, and the details have been filled in by Ms. Bildy. The “reality of the outside world” is another Conservative government – Manitoba, and in case you haven’t noticed they’re almost as rabid as the UCP. The brilliance of the JCCF’s move (intentional smartness or not) is that Chief Justice Glenn Joyal is put in a bit of a quandary. If he makes a big fuss about this, which he certainly should, then he’s off the case, which is something Mr. Carpay probably would like.

      It’s another bit of “Move along folks, nothing to be seen here.”

  11. So, they say this was all John Carpay’s idea?

    Carpay has the ego of a Napoleon and thin-skinned tolerance for any dissent. If other members of the JCCF are now going to plead innocence and throw their fearless leader under the bus, then this whole thing should turn into a Nuremberg moment once Manitoba’s Justice Minister comes knocking. “I vaz onlyz folloving orderz und I know nussing — nussing!” will be the refrain from the JCCF’s gallery of idiots.

    Now that it’s well-known that Premier Crying & Screaming Midget’s political allies and hatchet men descended onto other conservative provinces, what’s going to happen next? I suspect that Carpay and Kenney are still on speaking terms, though those lawsuits the JCCF filed against the AHS may have put a chill on that alliance, so perhaps the UCP government will intervene to protect the JCCF? It’s not like Kenney hasn’t stepped up to protect a fellow traveller before, and he pretty much doesn’t care what others think about him anymore. Why not?

    Kenney has his fingers in too many pies and at some point he was going to caught.

    1. JM I think you’ve hit on something in that the perceived animosity between Mr. Carpay and Mr. Kenny is more show than anything. They are indeed fellow travelers and I would bet that they are in agreement on 98% of issues. Do not be deluded that there is any significant space between them…

  12. Was Carpay’s ploy tit-for-tat? Kenney and guests were spied on hypocritically breaking Covid rules; did that justify spying on Chief Justice Joyal to see if he himself was breaking Covid rules while presiding over a trial in which Carpay’s clients are claiming a right for churches to break Covid rules? There are two reasons to think Carpay—and probably other JCCF lawyers on the case’s team—thought such a ploy was justified.

    First, Carpay’s org is unabashedly Social Conservative and it’s typical of SoCons to claim a right of justifiable revenge, even if they have to make it up. Their favoured theme is to justify revenge for being victimized. They do it all the time in a variety of ways: gender and abortion rights victimize SoCons’ claimed right to worship tenets which condemn homosexuality and a woman’s right to chose; Kenney claims Alberta’s bitumen industry is being victimized by foreign powers —or even crypto-mythological beings—which justifies investigating what damages Are claimed and, presumably, pursuing reparations; the ROC+Q —or Justin Trudeau—is victimizing Alberta’s economy and culture, therefore the threat of secession is levelled which, although practically preposterous, is presented as justified; high-income Albertan workers are victims of the feds who tax them at the same rate as every other Canadian but who don’t give back Albertans more than that—so sabre-rattling about abrogating the federal transfer scheme is justified, Kenney says, even though the province currently has no authority whatsoever to do anything other than watch Albertan’s pay their fair share of federal tax (and only ever would if other federates agree to reform federal transfer—or, naturally, if Alberta separates and becomes an independent nation); the provincial NDP had the temerity to win government in 2015, breaking an eight-decade run of right-wing governments (by only two parties in their turn) and the Alberta right (at the time fragmented into several factions) screamed for vengeance—and ostensibly affected as much as it could when the UCP defeated the Dippers, even though such revenge was typically petty and eaten with red hot ardour instead cold as revenge is said to taste best; &c.

    The second reason is the perennial self-righteousness of SoCons. Armed with self-fabulated accusations of victimization, they presume to justify being both prosecutor, judge and jury. Take exception and their vitriol only gets more vicious and hateful—self-righteously justified, naturally.

    But as Carpay and his JCCF are finding out, self-righteousness doesn’t mean righteousness—not according to the rule of law. Of course we recall that the UCP concept of ‘rule-of-law’ means not challenging statutes it legislated —even if they’re unconstitutional. When BC Premier John Horgan’s government got a temporary injunction against further construction of the TMX dilbit pipeline in order to seek legal reference from the courts as to BC’s rights with respect marine environmental protection (the dilbit piped to the West Coast would be thence loaded onto supertankers for shipping through the busy inside marine waters of two countries, both Washington State and BC protesting the risk), Kenney made out like Horgan was disrespecting the rule of law when, in fact, he never was (indeed, he was using the rule of law to get a legal reference). Not only do self-righteous SoCons appeal to an allegedly higher spiritual or natural law, they get to interpret what that is, no matter how upside down the rationalization, and, as always, take justifiable revenge as if Canadian Common Law and the rule of law (that the law is applied equally to every person and case) are subordinate.

    Was Carpay’s stupid scheme in retaliation for news media publishing Kenney’s Sky Palace flouting of Covid rules? The only thing needed to refute this likelihood would be evidence that Carpay and the JCCF had initiated their spying on the judge presiding over their clients’ case before Kenney’s embarrassing Sky Palace party was outed.

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