Lawyer John Carpay has made his return as president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms while more than half the board of directors has seemingly departed the group that was embroiled in controversy earlier this summer.
In July, Carpay went on leave after he hired a private investigator in Manitoba to tail a judge who had been presiding over a case Carpay and the JCCF were involved in there.
Carpay, who founded the Calgary-based right-wing legal advocacy group in 2010, apologized for having the judge tailed and was widely panned for his actions by friends and foes.
At the time, the law societies in both Alberta and Manitoba said they were looking into the incident, while the Winnipeg Police Service launched an investigation — which is ongoing as of Monday, the Star has confirmed.
But Carpay’s leave from the JCCF has ended, according to a statement released by the group’s board Monday.
“The board is taking steps to strengthen governance, and to provide increased independence between the litigation and educational activities of the organization,” said the statement.
“While there is still work to be done in the coming weeks and months, the board recognizes that the organization needs to end the uncertainty that comes with temporary leadership, to enable the Justice Centre to work more effectively in dealing with unprecedented challenges in our society.”
The JCCF had a board of nine members, according to an archived version of its website dated Aug. 25. As of Monday, there were only four listed, with one new addition. The Star reached out to several of the board members no longer listed on the website, as well as Carpay and the JCCF, but none have yet provided comments.
In its statement, the JCCF said it would “streamline and refresh its membership to better respond to demands on the organization.”
“Canada is experiencing a wave of unprecedented Charter violations with the introduction of vaccine passports, and with limitations on mobility, employment and voting rights,” it read, adding that there were several new job openings as well.
“In order to keep up with the large number of requests for legal help, the Justice Centre is announcing today several openings for new staff lawyers and paralegals, as well as a new office manager.”
The JCCF has been involved in controversial legal cases for years. Supporters of the group characterize it and Carpay as principled freedom fighters upholding constitutional rights. Detractors label him and his organization an American-style advocacy group that’s latched onto legal cases in Canada in a way that stokes culture wars and political division.
During the pandemic, Carpay and his colleagues at the registered charity and legal advocacy organization railed against COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, insisting coronavirus “isn’t the unusually deadly killer” it’s been made out to be.
The tailing of the justice in Winnipeg was viewed by some as a step too far.
In July, Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal was presiding over a case in which seven Manitoba churches are challenging public health restrictions. The JCCF is representing the churches.
The judge told lawyers in court that while running errands recently he discovered he was being followed.
“I have since learned that I was being followed by someone who was working for a private investigation agency,” he said.
The judge also said that a minor around the age of 14 had gone to his private residence and rang the doorbell looking for information as part of the surveillance effort.
“That private investigation agency was apparently hired by a person or persons for the clear purpose of gathering what was hoped would be potentially embarrassing information in relation to my compliance with COVID public health restrictions,” Joyal told the court, according to a transcript provided to the Star. “Without wishing to sound apocryphal … the situation I have just described raises the spectre of potential intimidation and it can also give rise to possible speculation about obstruction of justice, direct or indirect.”
Carpay then revealed to the judge it was he who made the hire.
He explained the hiring of the private investigator was in the context of determining whether government officials were complying with public health orders. He disclosed surveillance was being conducted on a number of public officials and that the instructions were to carry out the surveillance “for observation only” — not to knock on anyone’s door.
“It was a bad decision to have done this observation during a court case,” Carpay told the court. “That was an error in judgment and I’m deeply sorry for my error in judgment in that regard. And I’m very sorry about the impact that this has had on His Lordship and family members.”
In a public statement, Carpay apologized and said the decision to hire the investigator “was not discussed with Justice Centre clients, staff lawyers or board members.”
A statement by the JCCF board at the time said, “No member of the Board had any prior notice or knowledge of this plan and had not been consulted on it. Had the Board been advised of the plan, it would have immediately brought it to an end.”