Lawyer John Carpay addressing an anti-mask rally in Calgary in November 2020. Image: David Climenhaga/Screenshot of YouTube video

“Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me…”*

Cock-a-doodle do!

As a matter of fact, that was almost exactly how long it took for the board of directors of the so-called Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms — perennial litigators on behalf of COVID-denying fundamentalist churches, fanatical opponents of school gay-straight alliances, and like elements — to deny their founder and president, John Carpay.

Well, at least for the time being.

After Carpay admitted to hiring a private eye to follow the chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench around for purposes that have not yet been persuasively explained, it seemed like the JCCF directors couldn’t publicly hand the Calgary lawyer his stampede Stetson fast enough.

Carpay’s bizarre decision to hire the PI to snoop on Chief Justice Glenn Joyal left legalists throughout Canada gobsmacked after the judge told the shocking story in court Monday — and made it clear he’ll be continuing to preside over the JCCF’s attempt to get Manitoba’s COVID-19 restrictions declared unconstitutional on behalf of seven fundamentalist churches.

So, in a statement published on their website early yesterday, the JCCF’s board 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. Carpay has acknowledged that he made the decision unilaterally. Apart from the Justice Centre’s Litigation Director, none of the Justice Centre’s lawyers or Board members were aware that this was occurring until July 12.”

That was posted early yesterday, presumably before or after the hour the biblical cock crowed, depending on what part of the country you reside in. Carpay issued a statement the day before falling on his sword by taking full responsibility for the scheme.

“In an error of judgement, Chief Justice Joyal was included with the observation of government officials,” Carpay wrote in his statement. Presumably this means he thinks following and surreptitiously photographing government officials is OK, as long as they’re not judges.

The important question of who else the JCCF’s investigators were following remains unanswered.

According to the board, “the Justice Centre’s mandate is to defend Canadians’ constitutional freedoms through litigation and education.” One could argue, of course, that the JCCF’s real mandate is to do battle for a form of social conservatism that, were it to become the governing ideology of a Canadian government, would considerably restrict Canadians’ fundamental freedoms.

“Surveilling public officials is not what we do,” the board statement continued. “We condemn what was done without reservation. We apologize to Chief Justice Joyal for the alarm, disturbance, and violation of privacy. All such activity has ceased and will not reoccur in future.”

Still, while the board strove for a stern tone about Carpay’s shenanigans — presumably in the hopes the judiciary, law societies and media will stop paying attention to what he did — its members left the door open a crack to their founder’s return.

“With the integrity that we know him for, he has owned this mistake, openly, directly, and without reservation,” they praised him, faintly. “Mr. Carpay has advised the board that, effective today, he is taking an indefinite period of leave from his responsibilities at the Justice Centre. The Board will appoint an interim president to serve in his absence.” (Emphasis added.)

Litigation director Jay Cameron, notwithstanding his mention in dispatches by the board, remains on the organization’s staff list.

Lisa Bildy, a London, Ontario lawyer who according to her biography on the JCCF website took part in a campaign to block a Law Society of Ontario statement of principles that would have required the province’s lawyers to affirm their duty to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, has been named the group’s interim president.

The JCCF’s nine board members include such high-profile conservatives as Klein era Alberta finance minister Ted Morton, Epoch Times columnist Barbara Kay, and Troy Lanagan, who has headed such right-wing groups as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the renamed Manning Centre.

But gone are the days when the coruscating stars of the Canadian Conservative firmament hailed Carpay as the Great White North’s equivalent of Rosa Parks — as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney ludicrously did not so long ago.

Complaints about Carpay’s caper have been filed with the law societies of both Manitoba and Alberta by Ottawa human rights lawyer Richard Warman.

Warman said on his website that he has filed professional misconduct complaints with the Law Society of Alberta against both Carpay and Cameron of the JCCF, and has requested an investigation by the Law Society of Manitoba of another JCCF lawyer, Allison Pejovic.

“It’s probably the most egregious case of professional misconduct that I’ve heard of in quite some time,” Warman said of Carpay’s activities in a CBC interview. “Any lawyer found to have been involved in this should face the most severe sanctions possible, up to and including disbarment.”

The CBC also quoted University of Alberta law professor Eric Adams, who argued Carpay breached the Law Society’s code of conduct in ways that could result in him being reprimanded, fined or disbarred.

*Matthew 26:34

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: David Climenhaga/Screenshot of YouTube video

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...