Two Alberta lawyers charged with attempting to obstruct justice have been banned from practising law anywhere in Canada for three years as part of a plea deal with Manitoba prosecutors that saw their charges stayed.
Randal Jay Cameron and John Carpay were also charged with intimidation of a justice system participant after they hired a private investigator to follow the Manitoba judge who presided over their case challenging COVID-19 restrictions in 2021.
Court of King’s Bench Justice Shane Perlmutter accepted the application for a common-law peace bond in the case during a court appearance on Friday, when he said the accused demonstrated “unprofessional, unethical and dishonourable” conduct in hiring the investigator.
“What these lawyers did is nothing short of an affront on the administration of justice,” Perlmutter said, adding they “abused” the professional privilege granted to them while participating in a “historically important” constitutional case in Manitoba.
Defence lawyers Saul Simmonds and Alex Steigerwald said their clients, who appeared in court virtually on Friday, didn’t intend to obstruct justice or intimidate when they hired a private investigator to follow Glenn Joyal, chief justice of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench.
“These are two lawyers who were fighting for individual rights, the rights they believed in in the circumstances,” Steigerwald said in an interview following the court appearance.
“They were taking steps that they believed to be appropriate at the time and steps that we maintain did not amount to criminal conduct where there was any likelihood of conviction.”
Joyal was presiding over a case against pandemic rules brought forward by seven rural Manitoba churches represented by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which the accused both worked for.
Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft said Friday that prosecutors accept that Cameron and Carpay didn’t intend to cause fear, but their decisions were “egregiously misguided” and “neglected their overriding duty to the court.”
The peace bond, which Justice Perlmutter said is a type of “preventative justice” routinely used to resolve criminal charges without a trial, also prevents Cameron and Carpay from contacting Joyal.
Both lawyers had already been fined $5,000 by the Law Society of Manitoba and barred from ever practising in the province after a disciplinary hearing by the regulatory body.
Wanted to prove public health rules arbitrary
Court heard Carpay hired a private investigation firm to tail officials, including Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin and then premier Brian Pallister, in addition to Joyal.
Cameron, whose professional corporation had been retained by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, had proposed using any proof of public officials breaching public health rules in an affidavit to potentially support an argument that the orders were arbitrary, court heard.
“We need organizations that defend the rights of individuals, that challenge legislation when they are concerned about its efficacy and its ability to stand a constitutional and Charter challenge,” Simmonds said following the court appearance.
But judges also have a role to follow, and “need to be able to go about it without ever being in a position in which they are fearful in any way of their safety,” he said. “That was never the intention.”
Joyal revealed in court that he was being followed while the COVID-19 challenge case was being heard in July 2021. He said he noticed he was being tailed by someone in a black vehicle and tried to confront them as they avoided eye contact, court heard.
After a break in that hearing, Carpay said it was his organization that had retained the investigator. Both he and Cameron apologized for the error in judgment.
Court heard on Friday that at some point after that, Carpay deleted the entire contents of his email, including all correspondence with the private investigator.
Cameron also later directed the investigator to stop all surveillance “and delete everything,” court heard.
Joyal ultimately found the province’s public health orders were reasonable limitations on the group’s Charter rights in the context of the pandemic, and that Manitoba’s chief public health officer did have the authority to execute them.
Targeted judge ‘remains unimpressed’
Vanderhooft said he’s consulted with Justice Joyal about the case, “and while he remains unimpressed by the conduct, he understands the resolution and the closure that this will bring and the consequences for each of the accused.”
He said the three-year period of conditions Cameron and Carpay now face is the maximum period allowed under a peace bond.
Both Simmonds and Steigerwald said their clients are looking forward to putting the saga behind them.
Simmonds told court his client, Carpay, “believes in the importance of the judiciary’s independence” and his own obligation to behave with integrity as a lawyer.
Cameron’s lawyer, Steigerwald, told the court his client believes in fighting for individual rights and has spent an “unblemished career doing so,” both as a civil litigator and a Crown attorney.