Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms President John Carpay has been charged with obstruction of justice by Winnipeg Police and was arrested after turning himself in to Calgary Police Friday, the social conservative legal advocacy organization said in a statement yesterday.
According to the New Year’s Day statement published on the JCCF website, the charges “apparently” stem from a 2021 incident in which Mr. Carpay, a lawyer and social conservative activist, admitted hiring a private detective to snoop on the chief justice of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench.
The JCCF founder and president admitted on July 12, 2021, that his organization hired the private investigator to spy on the judge, who was presiding over a case conducted by the JCCF on behalf of seven rural Manitoba churches that objected to public health orders made early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Calgary-based lawyer, who for many years was a friend and political ally of former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, made the admission after Manitoba Chief Justice Glenn Joyal revealed during a hearing into the JCCF’s case that he had been followed by a private detective.
Mr. Carpay later said the decision to have the gumshoe follow the judge was his alone.
Yesterday’s statement by the JCCF seemed to imply Mr. Carpay was at least partly inspired to hire the private detective by the actions of Mr. Kenney and other senior members of his cabinet when they were caught in June 2021 by a still-unidentified photographer as they violated Alberta COVID-19 restrictions at a dinner meeting on the patio of the notorious “Sky Palace” atop an Alberta government office building in Edmonton.
“Mr. Carpay’s decision to conduct surveillance of Manitoba government officials followed a number of high-profile instances where those who imposed and enforced lockdown restrictions were themselves found violating their own rules, partying on rooftops, ignoring rules about face masks and social distancing, and jetting off to exotic holiday locations to countries without COVID restrictions,” the JCCF statement said. (Emphasis added.)
According to the statement, the JCCF learned of the Winnipeg warrant on Friday and that Mr. Carpay thereafter “immediately turned himself into (sic) Calgary Police Services.”
“This charge is unexpected and without explanation,” the statement complained. “The events at issue took place over 18 months ago, and police have not previously contacted Mr. Carpay nor the Justice Centre.
“Mr. Carpay has been cooperating with the investigation of this matter by the Law Society of Manitoba,” the statement continued. “At the time of the events, the Justice Centre Board of Directors also took appropriate steps to strengthen governance and oversight of the organization while Mr. Carpay took a seven-week leave of absence.”
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
A similarly worded fund-raising email sent yesterday to JCCF donors, headed “Urgent News for Our Justice Centre Supporters,” included the claim Mr. Carpay “was held in jail for 23 hours in an isolated cell without a cot, mattress, blanket, or even a pillow!”
This turn of events does not seem as shocking as it apparently was to the JCCF. There was plenty of discussion about possible repercussions in media and legal circles at the time Mr. Carpay’s actions came to light, including the view such activities could be perceived as obstruction of justice.
At the time of Chief Justice Joyal’s revelation, the University of Alberta’s vice-dean of law described the situation as “obviously a tremendous, tremendous lapse of judgment by the legal team involved, it seems to me, and one really that’s without precedent as far as I’m concerned.”
“It takes your breath away, the mindset that an individual would engage in to take that course of action,” Eric Adams, a noted constitutional scholar, told the CBC. “I mean, for what purpose would that information be gathered except for an improper one? It’s hard to imagine.”
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.”
Manitoba’s justice minister at the time, Cameron Friesen, said in a press release that “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.”
“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,” Mr. Friesen stated in the terse release. “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.”
As noted in yesterday’s JCCF statement, Mr. Carpay took what was described at the time as an indefinite leave from his job as JCCF president after the story broke and the organization’s board published a statement condemning the action, stating it was not informed, apologizing to the judge, and promising “all such activity has ceased and will not reoccur in future.”
That statement is no longer found at its original link on the JCCF website.
However, the interim president appointed by the JCCF board served only seven weeks before Mr. Carpay returned at the end of August 2021.
In an Aug. 30, 2021, story, the Toronto Star quoted a former JCCF former board member saying: “When a compromised president leaves and then the board seemingly, suddenly, anyway, to those of us looking from the outside, nearly vaporizes and the offending president returns, that tells me that there was kind of a putsch.”
UPDATE: The CBC reported this afternoon that Winnipeg Police have confirmed they have charged Mr. Carpay with intimidation of a justice system participant and attempting to obstruct justice. The broadcaster’s report also said the Law Society of Manitoba has indicated its investigation is complete and charges of professional misconduct will be brought against Mr. Carpay. A Law Society hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8-10 in Winnipeg.