The Winnipeg Police Service says the president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is facing charges that include attempting to obstruct justice, following his admission in 2021 that he hired a private investigator to follow a Manitoba judge.
Winnipeg police say in a news release that John Carpay, 55, was arrested with the assistance of the Calgary Police Service based on a warrant with charges issued by Manitoba Justice.
Carpay’s organization has issued its own statement, saying he immediately turned himself in to Calgary police after the group was contacted about the warrant on Friday.
The statement says Carpay was held in jail for 23 hours on New Year’s Eve “in an isolated cell without a cot, mattress, blanket, or even a pillow.”
Carpay, who is a lawyer, temporarily stepped aside as president of the Justice Centre after he admitted in court in July 2021 that he hired private investigators to track Chief Justice Glenn Joyal and other Manitoba public health officials.
Joyal at the time was hearing a case involving seven Manitoba churches, represented by the Justice Centre, who were challenging COVID-19 public health orders.
“This charge is unexpected and without explanation. The events at issue took place over 18 months ago, and police have not previously contacted Mr. Carpay nor the Justice Centre,” the Justice Centre said in its statement.
“Mr. Carpay has been cooperating with the investigation of this matter by the Law Society of Manitoba,” it continued.
“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.”
Police said in their news release they started their investigation regarding the attempted intimidation of Joyal in July 2021, and that investigators determined a private investigation firm was hired to surveil the judge.
The release said investigators also learned the suspect was a legal representative of several provincial churches and their associates, and was “in the process of bringing a high-profile constitutional challenge” to provincial COVID-19 public health orders.
In addition to a charge of attempting to obstruct justice, the release said Carpay is charged with intimidation of a justice system participant.
Police said their investigation is continuing.
Joyal eventually ruled against the churches in October 2021, saying the public health orders did not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the chief provincial public health officer could lawfully impose such restrictions.
The churches appealed the decision, and last month the Court of Appeal judges reserved their decision and did not indicate when they would deliver it.
In a statement Monday, the executive Assistant to the Chief Justices and Chief Judge said the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench is aware of the charges.
“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,” Aimee Fortier said in the statement.
“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.”
Fortier added there would be no further comment from either the Chief Justice, the Court of King’s Bench or from any other court representative.
The Justice Centre said in its statement that Carpay’s decision to hire the investigator was unilateral and that he took full responsibility without reservation for his actions. It also noted he apologized to Joyal in a public court hearing on July 12, 2021.
It referred to an earlier statement that explained Carpay’s decision to conduct the surveillance “followed a number of high-profile instances where those who imposed and enforced lockdown restrictions were themselves found violating their own rules.”
Carpay is to appear before a Law Society of Manitoba hearing panel into the matter in February.