Alberta Politics
Social conservative activist and lawyer John Carpay before the doors of a courthouse (Photo: Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms).

What possessed a prominent social conservative lawyer to hire a private investigator to follow a judge around?

Posted on July 13, 2021, 2:49 am
8 mins

What were John Carpay and the so-called Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms he heads trying to achieve when they hired a private detective to snoop on the chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench?

The JCCF founder and president admitted yesterday it was his organization that hired the professional peeper to spy on the judge, who is presiding over a case conducted by the JCCF on behalf of seven rural Manitoba churches that object to public health orders made earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal (Photo: Manitoba Courts).

The Calgary-based lawyer, for many years a friend and close political ally of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, made the admission after Chief Justice Glenn Joyal revealed during a hearing into the JCCF’s case that he had been followed by a private detective.

Justice Joyal called the surveillance cause for serious concern about the privacy and safety of judges, and said such activities could be perceived as obstruction of justice.

Following public officials on fishing expeditions for evidence of improper behaviour is a distasteful but probably inevitable by-product of the social media era – as Premier Kenney and his dining companions discovered to their dismay early last month when an unknown photographer in a nearby office building snapped them breaking COVID-19 rules on the rooftop patio of Edmonton’s notorious Sky Palace. 

But you just don’t go around trying to get the goods on a superior court justice, whatever you may imagine the goods may be. It should be obvious this is especially true if you are a lawyer appearing before the same judge in a legal case!

The JCCF may not have intended to intimidate the judge or interfere with the course of justice, but it has certainly managed to give that impression to a lot of people, judging from what is being said on social media. 

For Mr. Carpay personally, this is potentially a very serious matter. It’s hard to imagine that the Law Society will just shrug its collective shoulders and say no harm, no foul. 

According to the CBC’s very thorough coverage of the story, Mr. Carpay explained the engagement of the investigator was a part of an unrelated JCCF effort to hold senior officials accountable. He told the court the JCCF’s investigators were following a number of public officials to see if they were breaking health regulations. He said following Justice Joyal was not related to the JCCF’s litigation before him. He said no other judges were spied on. He said hiring the private investigator was his own decision. He said other JCCF lawyers knew nothing about it. He said the JCCF’s clients also knew nothing about it. And he apologized for making an error in judgment. 

Mr. Carpay made the same points again yesterday in a statement published on the JCCF’s website. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney yesterday in his Calgary Stampede duds (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

It would be a much more serious matter, of course, if some thought had been given to try to influence the course of justice, a natural line of speculation under the circumstances that doesn’t require a particularly suspicious or unreasonable mind.

And since the JCCF recently defended the pastor of a church that defied COVID-19 restrictions in the Edmonton area, it’s also fair to ask, as James Bremner of Calgary did on Twitter this morning, if the organization “undertook any of these shenanigans in our province.”

I have written in the past in connection with Mr. Carpay’s inflammatory comparison of the Pride flag to the Nazi swastika banner that he is an intelligent man who gives considerable thought to what he says and how he says it. 

But what he could have been thinking in this case is difficult to fathom. To describe the situation that came to light yesterday as the result of an error of judgment is a considerable understatement.

What could the JCCF have hoped to gain from this kind of outrageous behaviour? Perhaps we’ll eventually know more. Winnipeg Police are said to be investigating. That the results of their investigations should be revealed in the fullness of time is clearly in the public interest.

In 2018, Premier Kenney ludicrously compared Mr. Carpay to American civil rights icon Rosa Parks, best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955 and 1956. Last spring, however, the pair appeared to fall out over pandemic restrictions, with Mr. Carpay sharply criticizing Alberta’s COVID-19 rules as “an unscientific experiment.”

The JCCF is one of a number of right-wing activist organizations that have been granted charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency. 

The organization claimed in its 2016 annual report to be supported by more than 2,500 individual donors. That annual report now seems to have been removed from the JCCF website. 

In a section of the JCCF website entitled Donor Recognition, however, the organization still says it has received “generous support” from the Aurea Foundation, the Lotte & John Hecht Memorial Foundation, and the Donner Canadian Foundation. These three Canadian charitable foundations are all also supporters of the Fraser Institute. 

All donations are confidential, the JCCF website says, and donors are only acknowledged with permission.

A story on the JCCF published by the North 99 website in 2018 noted that the Washington-based Atlas Network, a worldwide conduit for right-wing cash, featured the JCCF on the list of Canadian organizations it supported. However, the JCCF is no longer shown on that Atlas web page.

Surely in light of the genuinely shocking developments in court yesterday, is it is not unreasonable to say that the need is urgent for a serious official look at right-wing charitable organizations like the JCCF, how they are funded, and the sources of their funding, including foreign sources. 

19 Comments to: What possessed a prominent social conservative lawyer to hire a private investigator to follow a judge around?

  1. Anonymous

    July 13th, 2021

    It’s as simple as that, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation aren’t what they used to be. Back in the day, they’d be legitimately criticizing very costly shenanigans, such as Ralph Klein’s West Edmonton Mall fiasco, where Albertans saw nearly half a billion dollars go into a black hole. There was some type of quick and secret lawsuit with this, and the affair was over and done with conveniently when Albertans were ensconced in Christmas festivities. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation hardly criticizes government misappropriation of taxpayer’s dollars these days. Instead, they are involved in partisan politics, by pandering to right leaning political parties, and people who were involved with this organization, such as John Carpay, play games like this. This is so pathetic.

  2. jerrymacgp

    July 13th, 2021

    “… following Justice Joyal was not related to the JCCF’s litigation before him. He said no other judges were spied on…” Yeah, right, and the cheque is in the mail … If no other judges were being surveilled, then the only inference that can be drawn from this affair is that the surveillance of Mr Justice Joyal was absolutely related to the litigation. If it isn’t actually illegal, it’s at least creepy & a dangerous precedent.

  3. Bob Raynard

    July 13th, 2021

    In Mr. Carpay’s statement he emphasizes that the decision to hire the private investigator to follow the judge was his, and his alone. Why did Jay Cameron also feel the need to apologize then?

    It hasn’t been made clear whether Mr. Carpay unilaterally chose to hire investigators to follow all of Manitoba’s leaders, or if the JCCF as a group made the decision follow leaders, and Mr. Carpay just decided to add Chief Justice Joyal to the list. Where I am going with this is I am wondering how much discretionary power John Carpay has with taxpayer supported funds? The cost of hiring several private investigators has to run into the thousands of dollars; does the JCCF governing structure allow Mr. Carpay to spend that kind of money with no oversight?

    Ironically, the JCCF website also includes a privacy policy.

  4. Carlos

    July 13th, 2021

    I was more surprised with your reaction to John Carpay’s attitude then with what happened.
    I can only say that you either have never talked to John or you have a very high level of understanding with people due to your experience in politics.
    I had the joy of talking to John for 5 minutes in a meeting many years ago at the Edmonton Public Library and at that moment I left the meeting and hoped that he would never have any power over anyone in this province or elsewhere.
    It does not surprise me that he is a friend of Jason Kenney because they have the same type of psychopathy.

  5. tom in ontario

    July 13th, 2021

    Another problem for Mr. Carpay and the bumbling sleuths he hired is outlined in a CBC followup by Rachel Bergen on July 13. Wouldn’t it be fun to be a fly on the wall at the next JCCF board of directors chin wag?
    “A private investigator who was not involved in following the chief justice says there may be personal implications for the private eye because they allegedly used an underage child to gain information on where Joyal lived.
    ‘In order to become a private investigator, you have to be 18 years of age and you have to be licensed, so you can’t have a young child carrying out your inquiries about the privacy of a judge’s home on your behalf. It’s not legal,’ said Janie Duncan, the president of Duncan Investigations in Manitoba.”

  6. Abs

    July 13th, 2021

    Mr. Kenney has some past and present friends with interesting boundaries, as in none of. If this kind of thing has gone on in Manitoba, what has gone on here, or is going on here? What next? Where does it end? Who’s going to stop it?

  7. Just me

    July 13th, 2021

    The JCCF operates with the same degree of impunity as the CTF, NCC, and the Fraser Institute: accepting “dark” money from any number of sources for the purpose of waging a concerted effort, with like-minded partisans such as the UCP and the CPC, to assault, cripple, and destroy Canada’s social policy structure.

    While these groups are known for having their own bizarre personages, John Carpay remains in a special class of right-wing looney. Under the guise of defending individual and institutional rights and freedoms (re. religious) Carpay engages in destructive and inflammatory rhetoric for the purpose of inciting some of the more unhinged elements of Canada’s right-wing culture. This is the guy who compared the Pride emblem to the Swastika, so this example alone gives a very good idea of where this guy is coming from.

    Spying on individuals with private investigators is not an uncommon practice among lawyers, but spying on a judge for whatever purpose is not. Given this revelation, I am left wondering again about the source of the photo of the Sky Palace shindig, attended by Kenney et al. Could that have been part of the JCCF’s dirty tricks campaign against public officials? That claim published in the Western Standard alleging private dinners by UCP politicians while public restrictions were in force, could that be part of the JCCF’s spying blitz?

    It can only be presumed what information the JCCF has accumulated from their expansive fishing expeditions, but it serves as an indicator of how deep the rift between the JCCF and the UCP is, and how personal the battle between Carpay and Kenney has become. Given the potential for more leaks about the private behavior of public officials targeted by the JCCF, I suspect Kenney may be ready to apply even more lavish amounts of grease to satisfy his unhappy base.

    We should not be surprised by this behavior. Back in the mid 1980s, campaigning PC leader Brian Mulroney boasted that he would dish out patronage until there were no more conservatives left to reward. Those in the know understood that Muldoon was buying the silence of partisan insiders who knew of his campaign of dirty tricks.

    • Mike J Danysh

      July 13th, 2021

      Re surveillance of Kenney et al at the Sky Palace–interesting speculation! When the photos emerged, I wondered why somebody would have a telephoto camera at a nearby vantage point. The story was the photographer had a smart phone; plausible enough, those things can now take snapshots equivalent to a mid-level digital SLR. I wonder how many other politicals the JCCF—or Carpay on his own, whichever—have been stalking?

  8. Neil Lore

    July 13th, 2021

    Okay, I’m going to try out my game theory. I’m someone who has just sicced a PI on a judge, hoping that the PI would catch the judge violating COVID restrictions. Suppose my PI succeeds. What will I do with that information?

    Maybe privately tell the judge how bad it would look if this got out? Maybe immediately put it in the media and use it to undermine the public’s confidence in this judge and/or Canada’s judicial system? Maybe this is something I’ve been doing for a while, and I just add it to all the other Kompromat I’ve assembled on other judges. Hard to see this as anything except an attempt to gain Kompromat on a Canadian judge. Hard to imagine an ethical motive for this behaviour.

    (2) Every person who intentionally attempts in any manner other than a manner described in subsection (1) to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice is guilty of

    (a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years; or

    (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

  9. Prairie Reader

    July 13th, 2021

    I immediately thought of that female judge in the states whose son opened the door to what he thought was a Fedex delivery person and was shot dead. How did Mr. Carpay get the judge’s home address? That’s a question that needs an answer. This needs a harsh, immediate response. This must not become a norm in any way.

    • Mike J Danysh

      July 13th, 2021

      I’d also recommend a short book called “On Tyranny: 20 lessons from the 20th century” by Timothy Snyder.

      For way more than you want to know about dark money, try:

      Dark Money (Jane Mayer), 2016
      Evil Geniuses (Kurt Andersen), 2020
      Democracy in Chains (Nancy MacLean), 2017

      There’s a lot of overlap, but Andersen in particular provides an insider’s feel for the question of “What were we thinking?”

    • Carlos

      July 13th, 2021

      Good suggestion but I am sure John Carpay is already a post graduate in matters of destroying democracy.

  10. Dave

    July 13th, 2021

    Mr. Carpay is one of a long list of odd and questionable characters that Kenney seems to have a close association or friendship with. If as the saying goes, you are judged by the company you keep, Kenney would be in trouble. Of course, as you noted this friendship has been strained recently, or perhaps more than strained, due Carpay’s differences with Kenney on COVID restrictions.

    I do have to give credit for Carpay being able to consistently come up with new ways to embarrass himself and by association Kenney. As if fighting against Gay Straight Alliances and defending COVID restriction denying ministers in Alberta was not enough, he seems to have now expanded to controversy beyond Alberta’s borders.

    This latest controversy may be more serious for several reasons. First of all, unlike here in Alberta, this time he probably does not have friends in politically high places in Manitoba to protect him from the damage he has done to himself here. Also, yes legal authorities and bodies do take a fairly dim view of trying to intimidate and harass judges, for a number good reasons.

    I suspect Mr. Carpay has realized belatedly (or has been told) how much trouble he potentially really is in here, with his somewhat contrite denial and attempts to distance his JCCF organization from this. You do have to wonder if all his high profile antics will also catch also the attention of the Canada Revenue Agency as it looks like his organization is really a political one masquerading a charitable one.

    • Carlos

      July 13th, 2021

      Well maybe it is a good project for the useless 30 million dollar war room

  11. Jimmy

    July 13th, 2021

    Surveillance of an MLA by municipal police and a senior judge by a private snoop. Chilling. Reminiscent of events in Central And South America in the nineteen seventies and eighties.

  12. Mike J Danysh

    July 13th, 2021

    A couple of points. 1) The Manitoba Law Society has released a statement condemning Carpay’s actions in very strong terms. It took them one day. Has anyone heard anything at all from the Alberta Law Society? I’m waiting for the ALS to announce an investigation into Carpay’s unprofessional conduct.

    2) It’s about bloody time that the federal government investigated some of these right-wing “charities.” The Harper government introduced that infamous legislation that forced charities to open their books or lose charitable status. As I recall, only one (rather prominent) right-wing so-called think tank was audited. But oh boy did they ever go after anyone who criticized Harper’s policies on the left.

    Carpay either has a serious case of “God complex” or he’s a victim of the “rules are for the other guy” conceit. The only good thing about this mess, specifically Carpay and the JCCF’s reaction to being outed, is how fast Carpay apologized and was sent home by the JCCF. The best I can say about them is they have a good grasp of “damage control measures” for PR disasters. Because of experience, I presume.

  13. Scotty on Denman

    July 13th, 2021

    ‘Darn it all anyway!’ Mr Carpay must’ve muttered when he realized his private dick had blown both their covers. That was the weak link he hadn’t figured on, apparently—nor that, in addition to defending his clients’ misbehaviour in court, the little glitch risks his licence to practice law at all. As someone said to be intelligent who parses his words very carefully, Carpay is now the subject of the mortifying lesson that, despite rhetorical erudition and loquaciousness, historians can get so involved with their own biased interpretations of events to ultimately prove complete idiots. Double that when it happens to an historian who is also a lawyer. Triple it when that lawyer is defending his client in front of Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, the very judge upon whom he committed the embarrassing mistake of tailing for fishing bait—or now, caught up in it, as he pleads, committing an “error in judgement.”

    Police may and might press charges of obstruction against Carpay and/or his supposed charitable organization, at which event he will get to explain his error in judgement to a real judge. Certainly Chief Justice Joyal would not be presiding over such a case but, rather, would appear as witness for the prosecution. Premier Jason Kenney, himself beset by a chuck-wagon load of problems, is probably breathing a sign of relief that he and Mr Carpay have recently fallen out over the UCP government’s negligent Covid response — which Carpay accuses of being not near negligent enough: after all, K-Boy has already reached his level of incompetence and doesn’t need close association with another complete idiot like Carpay who has just walked himself deep into mire without the kind of political sandbagging tools Kenney has to ride idiocy out. Carpay seemed not to recognize he was in a court of law, not the court of public opinion. Well, now he gets both, twice as bad as before.

    Does anyone suppose Carpay and Stockwell Day are related? Separated at birth, perhaps? This boner reminds me of Day’s announcement that, as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons, he had hired private dicks to investigate Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Naturally Reform-a-CRAP-a-Con-Alliance leader Day was tried for this in the court of a general election which the wily P’tit Gars de Shawinigan was granted on this revealed ground that the Opposition was obviously not prepared to be a government in waiting, An early election was granted forthwith. Chrétien’s Liberals mopped the floor with Day’s hapless party (recall that, up to the dissolution of that parliament, several Alliance MPs had already formed their own independent conservative caucus). Day was caught with his pants way down.

    (The maudlin outrage affected by the political right of the day gathered into widespread implementation of so-called ‘fixed-date elections’ which, in typically moot right-wing reaction, proved to be window dressing easily sidestepped, if needs, by right-wing governments themselves. Their rationale was that Chrétien was unfairly “playing politics” with election dates by taking advantage—again, ‘unfair’ advantage—of poor Stockwell, the right’s great white dope. Cultivation of this perverse misconception of fairness eventually led to many neo-right parties rationalizing electoral cheating to compensate for sagging popularity and general opprobrium of partisan lunacy.)

    Mr Carpay is building upon a reputation already earned: his excuses should be taken in both that baleful light and the flaring glare of his present predicament. As such, his claim that Chief Justice Joyal was the only judge he spied on— and that only coincidentally within a broader, generic investigation into public servants’ compliance with Covid restrictions—is likely bullshit. As likely is his confession that he alone came up with and executed this scheme, not conspiring with other lawyers at his org. But that could be, of course, another mistake like historians sometimes make: police forensics and courtroom cross-examination specialize in catching lies told to cover for previous lies told.

    Surely the Alberta Bar association is feeling some heat to address this apparent—that is, ‘perceived’ and ‘perceivable’—breach of legal ethics and, probably, a breach of law by Mr Carpay. Such internal, professional investigations rarely satisfy public curiosity and concern but, having already earned that suspicion, the Bar will probably be considering how not to make it worse, at very least. Mr Carpay could be professionally punished, potentially all the way up to losing his licence to practice. At least, in that case, he would make the history books—just not the kind he’d ever likely reference in his own, selective brand of odious chronology.

    Next, the JCCF should be investigated by regulatory authorities to find out if it should be disqualified as a charitable organization for tax purposes. Perhaps, in any conclusion, such an investigation might scare off potential donars, hitherto anonymous, which fear the light of day. Too bad there isn’t a statute to punish the hypocrisy of this beneficiary of foreign funds as it endorses things like the Inquiry into alleged anti-Alberta bitumen interference by foreigners. But loss of JCCF’s charitable status would be enough for most citizens. I’d approve, certainly.

    Finally, the UCP government with which Carpay has been fundamentally associated should wear some of this underhandedness. One hand has scratched the back of the other, UCP and JCCF. This would be squarely in the court of public opinion but, if it guarantees the defeat of one of Alberta’s worst governments, it’s all good.

    One day it will be history.

  14. A Mundi

    July 13th, 2021

    The morally superior and terminally misinformed are so quick to act on their perceptions that the leftist enemy is gaining in their campaign to seize the rights and freedoms from them and destroy all quality of life on earth.

    Stalking and spying on a judge – however more sophisticated than trying to get dirt on say, a welfare recipient, as the ucp would no doubt be inclined to do if it could serve their interests – it’s all fiendish behavior. We know in Alberta, this behavior isn’t always assigned to third parties. How many individuals I wonder, have been violated like this. It must become a passion when they have some form of control, to know they can intimidate and perhaps interrupt the functioning of the person who doesn’t fit into their emerging manifesto. Would they pant and drool like a predator would?

    Sadly, thinking rationally is beyond this mindset as these are fetishes that come from dark places they don’t know exist. I don’t think they can help themselves.


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