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Justice minister asks for investigation of lawyers

Cameron Friesen said, as attorney general of Manitoba, he has asked the Law Society of Manitoba to initiate an investigation into the lawyers with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. The centre is representing a group of churches in Manitoba that are challenging COVID-19 public-health orders. 
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Manitoba Health, Seniors, and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen looks on during the daily briefing at the Manitoba Legislative Building, in Winnipeg, on Aug. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s justice minister has written to the provincial law society requesting it investigate the conduct of lawyers working with an organization that hired a private investigator to follow a judge. 

"It is gravely concerning that a private investigator was hired to conduct surveillance of a member of the judiciary, ostensibly to embarrass or intimidate the judge," Cameron Friesen said in a statement Thursday.

Friesen said, as attorney general of Manitoba, he has asked the Law Society of Manitoba to initiate an investigation into the lawyers with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

The centre is representing a group of churches in Manitoba that are challenging COVID-19 public health orders. 

John Carpay stepped down as president of the Justice Centre this week after admitting in court to hiring a private investigator to follow the judge presiding over that case.

Friesen said he is gravely concerned by the actions of the centre and wants the lawyers involved to be held accountable.

"This is an obvious invasion of privacy and it is difficult to believe that these actions were not intended to influence the outcome of the court case," he said.

Lisa Bildy, interim president of the Justice Centre, responded to Friesen's comments and a Law Society complaint in a release Thursday night.

"These efforts to damage the professional reputations of our lawyers are groundless and unjustified," Bildy said in a statement.

"None of our staff lawyers or outside counsel ... had knowledge of or involvement in the surveillance of officials."

Bildy said the Justice Centre is already on record as saying that Carpay made "an egregiously poor decision, and has been condemned unequivocally by the Justice Centre's Board of Directors."

She noted that it was a unilateral decision made by one person in the organization who has departed on an indefinite leave of absence.

Bildy said in the meantime, the Justice Centre will continue its work. 

Jay Cameron, another lawyer representing the Justice Centre in the challenge, told the court he was not involved in the decision to hire the investigator, but had known about it for a couple of weeks.

The Law Society of Manitoba said earlier this week it is looking into what happened, but would not comment on specifics of the case because investigations and complaints are confidential.

The Law Society of Alberta, which would be Carpay's regulator, would not say whether there's an investigation into his actions.

An Ottawa human rights lawyer confirmed he had filed a professional misconduct complaint with the society against Carpay, as well as against two other lawyers with the Justice Centre.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2021. 

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press