Glenn Joyal of Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench speaks to a reporter in Winnipeg on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Lambert

Group behind churches in court challenge apologizes for following Manitoba judge

WINNIPEG — A group supporting multiple churches across the country in court challenges against COVID-19 public health orders is apologizing after hiring a private investigator to follow a Manitoba judge.

“I accept full responsibility and sole responsibility for my decision to retain private investigation firms for observation of public officials,” said John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

Carpay apologized for his “poor judgment” during a special court hearing Monday called by the judge overseeing a court challenge of COVID-19 restrictions in Manitoba.

Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said he realized he was being followed by a vehicle after leaving the courthouse last week. A person also went to his home and spoke with his daughter, he said.

Joyal said it soon became clear a private investigation agency was hired “for the clear purpose of gathering what was hoped would be potentially embarrassing information in relation to my compliance with COVID public health restrictions.”

“I am deeply concerned and troubled.”

Joyal heard a constitutional challenge from seven Manitoba churches represented by the Justice Centre in May. The churches argued their right to worship and assemble was violated by COVID-19 restrictions.

Government lawyers told court it’s within the bounds of the legislature to grant the chief public health officer authority to impose reasonable rules.

Joyal has yet to rule but said his decision, expected in a few weeks, would not be influenced by his experience being followed by the private investigator.

He did, however, point to potential implications for the administration of justice.

“The situation I have just described raises the spectre of potential intimidation and it could also give rise to possible speculation about obstruction of justice — direct or indirect,” Joyal said.

The Justice Centre has also filed challenges against public health orders on behalf of churches or individuals in other provinces, including Alberta and British Columbia.

Carpay said his group has organized private investigation surveillance on a number of public officials across the country.

“We believe the public has the right to know whether or not government officials are complying with public health orders,” he told court.

He said the decision to hire surveillance is separate from litigation and the Justice Centre’s clients did not request it.