The Law Society of Manitoba has barred two Alberta lawyers from practising in the province after receiving 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 must also each pay a $5,000 fine.
Ayli Klein, the law society’s counsel, told a panel at a disciplinary hearing Monday that the conduct by Carpay and Cameron was “truly shocking.”
“(Their actions) brought the administration of justice into disrepute … every member of the public who hears of this would be appalled,” she said.
“It’s crucial the panel sends an unequivocal message … what they did was unprofessional.”
Klein argued that banning Carpay and Cameron from practising law in the province was the most serious penalty available.
Both Carpay and Cameron agreed to the law society’s recommendations. Carpay pleaded guilty to breach of integrity, while Cameron admitted to professional misconduct.
Both lawyers represented several churches that attempted in 2021 to overturn Manitoba public health orders that prevented in-person religious services during the height of the pandemic.
The Justice Centre, a legal advocacy group, represented churches and individuals across Canada in multiple court challenges against COVID-19 public health orders.
Carpay’s lawyer told the disciplinary hearing that his client was not acting as counsel for the Manitoba churches but gave them instructions.
Carpay temporarily stepped down as president of the centre after admitting during the churches’ court challengethat he hired a private investigator to follow the judge presiding over the case, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench.
Carpay said his group organized private investigation surveillance on a number of public officials across the country to see whether they were following public health orders.
Cameron, a Calgary-based lawyer who previously worked with the centre, told court at the time that 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 that a provincial public health officer had the authority to issue the orders.
Carpay and Cameron still face criminal charges that include attempting to obstruct justice.
“Mr. Carpay denies any criminal wrongdoing and looks forward to resolving the charges against him,” said a statement from the centre on Monday.
Lawyers for Carpay and Cameron told the law society hearing that they never meant to interfere with a case before the courts. Cameron was not present at the hearing.
Saul Simmons, Carpay’s lawyer, told the panel that his client’s actions were “misguided” and “inappropriate.”
“Mr. Carpay is choosing the path of least resistance because he feels strongly that he made an error … it’s not such an easy thing to admit a substantive mistake as this.”
Carpay told the panel he regretted his actions.
“My intention was not to influence or intimidate the court, but to serve the broader public interest goals of my employer. Unfortunately, in pursuing those legitimate goals, I lost sight of my current responsibilities as a lawyer to society and to the courts.”
Cameron’s lawyer said his client never intended to cause the chief justice any fear.
“(Cameron’s) professional reputation is tarnished. He likely won’t recover from this,” said Alex Steigerwald.
Neither Carpay nor Cameron has any prior disciplinary record. The law society’s conviction now goes on their record.
Simmons said the Law Society of Alberta was waiting until after the Manitoba hearing to decide wither it would to pursue its own hearing. The Law Society of Alberta said complaints and investigations are confidential unless a citation is issued and a complaint is directed to a public hearing.