We are living in crazy days folks. I’ve seen a lot in my career in politics, but it seems that this year things keep happening that manage to catch me off guard. Sadly in 2021 we’ve seen too many thinks that we never thought we’d see in our part of the World, yet they’ve happened. The mixture of anti-vax, anti-public health, COVID conspiracies and the far right has brought us some toxic, disturbing scenes to be sure.
But today one of those stories went somewhere especially disturbing. Back in May I wrote about a small group of churches in Manitoba going to court selfishly trying to quash the provinces public health orders. That case was back in court today and the day started with a stunning announcement from the judge overseeing the case that added another layer of disturbing to this situation:
Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal made the detailed statement above to the gathered proceeding the recent events that lead up to today. He was followed by a private investigator supposedly attempting to catch him breaking COVID-19 rules. This was apparently an attempt to embarrass the justice while he is presiding over this case on those very same measures. According to the reporting on the matter, the private investigator even followed him to his home, and had a young boy ring his doorbell while he wasn’t home in an attempt to confirm where he lives. Joyal disclosed this, saying that it would be “unthinkable” to not share it with the court because of its potential implications in the administration of justice.
Needless to say, this is chilling and disturbing on a few levels. Firstly, this appeared to be an attempt to either embarrass the justice or worse. Why hire someone to follow around a judge if it wasn’t to somehow have an impact on the outcome of the case? And who would have interest in hiring a PI to undertake this kind of surveillance of a judge? Well the answer came clear pretty quickly, and it was as obvious as it was disturbing:
Yep, it turns out that it was John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, who admitted that his organization hired the PI. But it turns out that Justice Joyal wasn’t alone in being surveilled, as Carpay admitted to Global News that “his group has organized private investigation surveillance on a number of public officials across the country.” In a statement made to Global, Carpay is quoted as stating “I accept full responsibility and sole responsibility for my decision to to retain private investigation firms, for observation of public officials… And the my error in judgement in in this case is that it was it was poor judgement. It was a bad decision to have done this observation during a court case. That was an error in judgement.”
Error in judgment doesn’t come close to covering what happened here. Remember it was Carpay and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms that launched this court challenge to begin with, so this wasn’t some innocent “whoopsie” on their part. This was clearly some part of their plan for the case because why else would you do it? Why would you spend the money and resources on hiring a PI here if it wasn’t to be a part of your case?
Of course, the other potential explanations are much less charitable and probably more legally troubling. The fact that Justice Joyal had to state that this turn of events won’t affect his ruling tells you a lot, as one could easily jump to the conclusion that this could have been intended to affect this ruling. Also, given the environment that we are living in these days, it’s impossible not to think about how these same kinds of activities are used in far less democratic nations or in dictatorships to try to either intimidate or even assassinate public figures like judges. I’m not suggesting that’s what these folks were up to, but when you look at it through that lens, it’s easy to see why the Winnipeg police and the Government of Manitoba’s Internal Security and Intelligence Unit are investigating this.
What makes this even worse though is that it appears by Carpay’s own statements that this isn’t a one off. Note in his statement above, he mentions the “observation of public officials”, plural. So who else are these guys surveilling and potentially trying to intimidate? Before this morning I wouldn’t have asked that question but given this revelation, it makes complete sense to ask now. I hope that the appropriate officials are also investigating that as well because those are tactics used by authoritarians when they don’t have lots of legal options at their disposal. It’s disturbing to say the least, and raises a lot more serious questions going forward.
We’ll see how the fallout from this case goes but it’s getting clearer that many of these groups pushing anti-public health measures are going beyond conventional protesting. Tactics like these are not acceptable in a democratic society and the irony is not lost on me that those who falsely claim they are victims of government tyranny appear themselves to be using the tactics of tyrannies elsewhere. You’d think that they’d get that, but heck, we could have said the same about so many other things along the way during this pandemic.