JCCF Carpay
Attorney John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms speaks at an event in 2020. (Source: YouTube)

President of Group Representing Canadian Churches Admits Hiring Investigator to Surveil Judge

By Josh Shepherd

The battle between several Canadian churches and authorities over COVID restrictions took a bizarre turn this week when the president of a group representing several churches admitted he hired a private investigator to surveil a judge.

John Carpay is president of nonprofit group Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), which is representing seven rural Manitoba churches fighting public health orders. The JCCF is also representing two Alberta pastors in high-profile cases—James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton and Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary. Both pastors were jailed for their defiance of public health guidelines, which garnered international attention.

At a public hearing Monday, Carpay disclosed that he had hired an investigator to tail Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal to see if Joyal was adhering to COVID guidelines.

Justice Joyal said the move was an attempt to embarrass him and to sway the current case. Joyal noted he was followed around Winnipeg by a vehicle, and that his home residence and his cottage were surveilled.

“I am deeply concerned that this type of private investigative surveillance conduct could or would be used in any case involving any presiding judge in a high-profile adjudication,” said Joyal at the hearing.

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Carpay apologized at the hearing for the “error in judgment.” But he claimed the surveillance was not an attempt to influence the case before the judge.

In a statement issued later, Carpay said: “It was reported to the Justice Centre that Manitoba’s leadership were breaching public health regulations. I made the decision to hire an investigator to ascertain whether this was true. This decision was my own initiative, and was not discussed with Justice Centre clients, staff lawyers or Board members.”

Yesterday, the JCCF’s Board of Directors announced that Carpay was taking “an indefinite period of leave” following this incident and an interim president would be named.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Police Service confirmed to CBC News that authorities are investigating the matter. Additionally, human rights lawyer Richard Warman filed a complaint with provincial bar associations requesting that Carpay and JCCF be sanctioned for Carpay’s actions.

Seven churches battle restrictions

The case involving the seven Manitoba churches is one of several cases in which Canadian churches are pushing back on public health restrictions, which they claim violate their religious freedom.

In Manitoba, indoor gatherings have been either restricted or banned completely since early on in the pandemic. “Personal rights and freedoms have vanished almost overnight, with no end in sight,” stated the JCCF legal brief on behalf of churches filed in May.

Additionally, the group asserted that the seven churches resuming services is a matter of “freedom of conscience and religion”—rights enumerated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The province’s lawyers countered that public health policies that temporarily limit personal freedoms are reasonable to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Pastor James Coates

Also battling authorities in the province of Alberta is GraceLife Church in Edmonton, led by James Coates who notably served 35 days in prison for refusing to comply with public health guidelines.

Pastor James Coates

In December, Canadian authorities fined GraceLife for hosting church services at above 15% building capacity and without social distancing or masks. When the church refused to pay or halt services, Coates was jailed on February 19. He was released on March 22 and the fine waived due to time served.

But that didn’t end the drama.

On April 7, local authorities fenced off GraceLife’s building to ensure services did not resume. Four days later, approximately 350 people gathered at the church and a group of them tore down the fence temporarily. At least 150 protestors also trespassed on nearby land held by a First Nations tribe.

The JCCF stated that “GraceLife congregants were not at the protest.” However, a Cree nation spokeswoman said six church members contacted her to apologize for parking on their land.

Following a two-day hearing in May, a judge dismissed JCCF’s constitutional challenge of the actions taken against the church.

On June 10, Coates and church leaders filed an application with the Provincial Court of Alberta requesting to immediately return to their building. On July 1, authorities relented and took down the fence.

When GraceLife Church resumed services on July 4, Coates’ wife Erin posted on Instagram: “For the first time in 8 months we worshipped without the threat of police, MSM (mainstream media), and AHS (Alberta Health Services) breathing down our necks . . . We almost blew the roof off singing to our great and faithful God who has carried us through this season.”

Pastor Tim Stephens

The JCCF is also representing Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary.

Pastor Tim Stephens

Stephens was initially jailed for violating health guidelines in May and held for three days, after leading a service at Fairview Baptist. The JCCF claims authorities breached Stephens’ Charter freedoms with that arrest and has filed a lawsuit against the Alberta Crown for damages, which is pending.

On June 14, Alberta Police arrested Stephens again for violating public health codes. Alberta guidelines restrict worship gatherings to one-third building capacity. When Stephens violated those restrictions, Alberta Health Services closed Fairview’s building and changed the locks. Stephens responded by holding services outside, which reportedly exceeded size limits and did not enforce masking and social distancing.

Stephens was freed July 1 and is awaiting trial at the end of the month. Meanwhile, his church is meeting in an alternate location.

For the seven Manitoba churches challenging public health orders, a decision is expected in coming weeks. Chief Justice Joyal said the surveillance incident would not impact the outcome of his ruling.

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.

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12 thoughts on “President of Group Representing Canadian Churches Admits Hiring Investigator to Surveil Judge”

      1. Paul Schutter

        If the surveillance was lawful, this is a non-newsworthy story and implies the Churches and Pastors associated with the surveillance company were “bad” people. True, it indicates they were unaware of the surveillance, but a person skimming the article may miss that tiny detail and draw the conclusion the headline was meant to imply. This was click bait.

      2. If that’s the case, then:

        A) Why did Carpay apologize?

        B) Why did the JCCF put him on indefinite leave?

        C) Why are both of them potentially in trouble from bar associations?

        1. One cannot even be perceived to be doing anything wrong without the secular media condemning it – especially as a Christian. Carpay runs the JCCF so he did it to save face for the institution. There is no law against what he did and it is not a sin. . Most law societies in Canada are anti Christian even preventing Christian school law graduates from being lawyers due to their moral position on marriage, homosexuaity, etc. We will see what the law society invents

  1. Tough time to be a Christian in Canada. Restricting freedoms and burning churches. We must pray for our church family in Canada.

  2. Tammy:

    Yes. John Carpay could be looking at obstruction, intimidation, obstruction and contempt charges under the Criminal Code of Canada.

    He is certainly looking at being reprimanded, fined and even disbarred by the Manitoba Bar Association, which came out with a joint statement with the Canadian Bar Association.

    As well, if there has been a breach in the JCCF behavior as it relates to the JCCF charitable status with Canada Revenue Agency Charity Directorate, there could be consequences up to the loss of their charitable status.

    Canadian judiciary are appointed, not elected and as such are not ‘public figures’ as Carpay stated.

    British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario may have to do investigations to see if any of their judges in the JCCF church/covid cases were surveilled.

    As well Canadian private investigators are not permitted to use minors in their work.

  3. Narcissists must be foolish as they demand that people break reasonable laws in order for their pockets to be filled with Mammon and that the faithful come and worship them because no one actually wants to have a personal relationship with God. These men are anti-Christs who have set themselves up on the throne to be both worshipped and obeyed without question. They care nothing about who gets sick or who dies.

  4. It is not a hard time to be a Christian in Canada. Remember, you are just getting the most sensational stories in the media. With the bias that usually comes with it.

    This particular piece seems fairly objective. I don’t support the rebellion of the tiny fraction of churches who are bucking the system. They are entirely mistaken and their actions are unjustified. The lawyer who is the subject of this story will likely be disciplined severely, and he should be.

    Thankfully, the restrictions seem to be ending anyway, and this will become just a legal question

    1. True it’s not hard to be a Christian in Canada. Rather, it’s hard being a Christian whose worldview is truly shaped by Scripture, who’s Lord is the Christ of Scripture, and who’s ethics is shaped by the Apostle’s teaching which places the local church at the center of all things. This is why those Apostles place such a high importance on faithful gathering in the NT. Indeed, it is incredibly difficult to have a Biblical view of the local church – and actually live that out faithfully! – in Canada, which is why the vast majority of local churches in Canada are just taking whatever their gov’t dishes out to them. It’s very hard to say no. It’s much easier to just take whatever their gov’t tells them to do. Canadians acquiesce to their gov’t. I lived there for 5 years and I never quite understood it. It’s so much a part of their culture. It’s an unpardonable sin to disagree or be disagreeable. Everybody doesn’t want to think of themselves as not playing nice.

  5. Holding judgment or criticism until more time has passed. Praying Julie Roys ministry will continue to monitor this situation and keep us updated as MSM will surely do the best smear job possible.
    Praying for humble and contrite hearts for all involved.

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