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Justice Glenn Joyal, Chief Justice of Manitoba

I was followed by private investigator: Manitoba chief justice

Monday, July 12, 2021 @ 4:39 PM | By Terry Davidson

Manitoba’s chief justice has revealed he was recently tailed by a private investigator in what he figures was an attempt to catch him breaking COVID-19 rules and embarrass him as he presides over a dispute involving public health restrictions.

At the start of a July 12 hearing involving a constitutional challenge in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench by a group of churches forced to close as part of public health measures, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, who is presiding over the case, told the court he had obtained information “gravely concerning the administration of justice.”

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal

A lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), a civil liberties group that launched the challenge on behalf of the churches, reportedly admitted later during the hearing it was his organization that had hired the private investigator, but that it was not done to influence the outcome of the case.

It was reported later that it was JCCF president John Carpay who admitted that his organization hired the private investigator.

According to a transcript of opening remarks, Chief Justice Joyal said it was on July 8, after leaving the Law Courts building in Winnipeg, that he noticed he was being followed by a vehicle he did not recognize.  

“I have since learned that I was being followed by someone who is working for a private investigation agency,” said Chief Justice Joyal in the transcript, which was provided by a courts spokesperson. “That private investigation agency was apparently hired by a person or persons for the clear purpose of gathering what was hoped would be potentially embarrassing information in relation to my compliance with COVID public health restrictions.”

Chief Justice Joyal said the incident on July 8 went so far as to end up on the doorstep of his family’s home.

He says an unknown vehicle stopped at his home. A boy of around 14 exited the vehicle, went to the front door, rang the doorbell and asked Chief Justice Joyal’s daughter where her father, the judge, was.

“I was not home at the time,” states the chief justice. “In walking away, the young boy nervously refused to provide information about his inquiries or his attendance at my private residence. Based on subsequent information, it is believed that this was an attempt related to the work of the private investigation agency to confirm the location of my private residence. How the private and sensitive details of my home address was obtained, remains unknown.”

Both the police and Manitoba’s Internal Security and Intelligence Unit were called and an investigation commenced.

JCCF president Carpay reportedly later said that the public has a right to know if government officials are following public health orders, but stressed that the investigators were not instructed to knock on the chief judge’s door.

In the transcript, Chief Justice Joyal states that the private investigator’s work would have included going to the judge’s cottage. At the time, Chief Justice Joyal said he did not know how his “private and sensitive information” was obtained.

“Obviously, this ongoing surveillance that I have described and the connected intrusion into my privacy, have serious implications not only for the public safety of judges generally, the privacy of their residences and private property, but also, it has significant implications respecting how any such gathered sensitive information and private detail is shared, and with whom. No less importantly, and in the specific and relevant context of this case, the commencement and existence of this private investigation and surveillance has potential implications for the administration of justice where this type of surveillance is being conducted of a judge involved in a case dealing with the validity and constitutionality of Public Health Orders.”

He said the incident “raises the spectre of potential intimidation” and “possible speculation about obstruction of justice, direct and indirect.”

“If we are now in an era, where, a private investigation agency can be permitted to accept this type of retainer, and if we are now in an era, where, a sitting judge, in the middle of a case, can have his or her privacy compromised as part of an attempt to gather information intended to embarrass him or her, and perhaps even attempt to influence or shape a legal outcome, then we are indeed, in unchartered waters.” 

In a joint statement, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) and Manitoba Bar Association (MBA) were quick to denounce what had gone on.

“The use of a private investigator as detailed by Chief Justice Joyal threatens the integrity of proceedings before the court, bringing the administration of justice into disrepute, and is a violation of his right to privacy,” said CBA president Brad Regehr and MBA president Ian Scarth, adding it “also raises serious security concerns for the judiciary, officers of the court and court staff.”

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