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Lawyers charged by regulatory body after investigation into surveilling judge

Lawyer John Carpay is shown in a 2012 file photo. Carpay, president of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, and another lawyer are facing charges under the Law Society of Manitoba. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

WINNIPEG — Two lawyers are facing charges under the Law Society of Manitoba after the regulatory body investigated complaints they hired a private investigator to surveil a judge who was hearing a case involving COVID-19 public health orders. 

John Carpay, president of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, and Randal Jay Cameron face charges from the independent regulator, which include undermining the public respect for the administration of justice and breach of integrity.

A hearing date has not been set.

The lawyers are also facing criminal charges for attempting to obstruct justice and intimidation of a justice system participant in relation to the surveillance. They have separate court dates later this month. 

Both men represented several churches that tried in 2021 to overturn Manitoba public health orders that prevented in-person religious services during the height of the pandemic.

Carpay temporarily stepped down as president of the Justice Centre after admitting in court to hiring a private investigator to follow the judge presiding over that case, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench.

Carpay apologized for his “poor judgment” but defended the validity of conducting surveillance of other public officials across the country.

Cameron, a Calgary-based lawyer who has worked with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, told the court at the time he was not involved in the decision to hire the investigator but had known about it for a couple of weeks.

Joyal eventually ruled against the churches, finding the public health orders did not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the provincial public health officer had the authority to issue the orders. 

Manitoba’s justice minister at the time described the surveillance as gravely concerning and called on the provincial law society to investigate the conduct of the lawyers. 

An Ottawa human rights lawyer also confirmed he had filed a professional misconduct complaint against the lawyers.

The Law Society of Alberta, which would be Carpay’s regulator, has said the investigation would be handled by its Manitoba counterpart. 

The Canadian and Manitoba bar associations denounced the use of a private investigator at the time, saying it threatened the integrity of proceedings before the court and raised serious concerns about the safety of judicial staff, including judges.

The Justice Centre, a legal advocacy group, represented churches and individuals across Canada in multiple court challenges against COVID-19 public health orders. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2023. 

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon

The Canadian Press

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