After Manitoba's justice minister called for an investigation into the conduct of all lawyers at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the organization suggested doing so would be "groundless and unjustified."
The Calgary-based registered charity has come under fire after its president admitted hiring private investigators to spy on several Manitoba officials, including the chief justice, to see if they were following COVID-19 public-health orders. The group represents seven Manitoba churches in an ongoing court battle arguing the restrictions violate their rights to worship and gather, and it has launched similar constitutional challenges in other provinces.
A statement posted on the centre's website Thursday night pinned all of the blame on president John Carpay, who stepped away from the role after admitting Monday during a Court of Queen's Bench hearing that he was the one who hired a private investigator to tail Chief Justice Glenn Joyal.
As she defended the other lawyers who work at the firm in her statement, interim president Lisa Bildy wrote that hiring a private investigator was "an egregiously poor decision."
"It was, however, a unilateral decision made by one person in the organization, who has now departed on an indefinite leave of absence. Although our litigation director, Jay Cameron, learned of the decision after the fact, none of the members of the board, staff lawyers or outside counsel had any knowledge of it," Bildy wrote.
"These facts have been stated in court and in our public statements on the matter. Nevertheless, a Law Society complaint was made against Manitoba counsel, Allison Pejovic, and earlier (Thursday), the Manitoba Attorney General called for all lawyers at the Justice Centre to be investigated by the Manitoba Law Society. These efforts to damage the professional reputations of our lawyers are groundless and unjustified. None of our staff lawyers or outside counsel, including Ms. Pejovic, had knowledge of or involvement in the surveillance of officials.
"The Justice Centre has a growing team of courageous, principled, capable, ethical, and professional lawyers who work hard every day to defend the Charter-guaranteed rights and freedoms of ordinary Canadians against government overreach.
"Mr. Carpay has owned this mistake and will deal with whatever flows from it. In the meantime, many people in this country are counting on the Justice Centre to continue its work. The organization will use this opportunity to implement improvements in operations and decision-making processes, refocus on our mission, and continue our important legal battles on behalf of Canadians."
The centre has not responded to requests for comment from the Free Press.
Bildy's statement came after Manitoba Justice Minister Cameron Friesen called on the Law Society of Manitoba to investigate lawyers associated with the organization. The law society said it is looking into the matter. Earlier this week, misconduct complaints naming Carpay and Cameron were submitted to the Law Society of Alberta, along with a request for the Manitoba law society to look into Pejovic's conduct.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.