WINNIPEG -- Manitoba’s chief justice says the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms hired a private investigator in order to try to catch him breaking COVID-19 public health orders.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing a group of seven Manitoba churches who are challenging the province’s public health orders, arguing they have violated religious freedoms.

Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said in court on Monday he learned of this private investigator in the last few days, noting someone hired the private investigation agency to gather potentially “embarrassing” information regarding his compliance with public health restrictions.

Joyal noted that the investigation agency went to his home on July 8.

“A young boy, described as approximately 14 years of age exited as a passenger of an unknown vehicle,” he said.

“The young boy went to the front door of my residence, rang the doorbell and made inquiries of my daughter respecting my presence. I was not home at the time. In walking away the young boy nervously refused to provide information about his inquiries or his attendance at my private residence.”

Joyal noted that based on subsequent information, it is believed this was an attempt by the agency to confirm the location of his home.

“The City of Winnipeg’s police service was called in, as was the Government of Manitoba’s internal security and intelligence unit. I’m told the investigation is ongoing,” he said, noting the nature of the private investigation agency’s retainer has been confirmed.

He noted he doesn’t know the exact nature of the surveillance, but it includes “attendance at, near or around my private cottage.” He said, as with his home, he doesn’t know how the agency found this information.

“Obviously, this ongoing surveillance that I’ve described and the connected intrusion into my privacy have serious implications not only for the public safety of judges generally, the privacy of the 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,” Joyal said.

Joyal said he is working on his decision on a constitutional challenge calling on the courts to strike down part of the province’s public health act. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms launched this challenge on behalf of seven Manitoba churches, a minister, a deacon and a man who was fined for attending an anti-lockdown rally.

“The matter that has come to my attention, while greatly concerning for the administration of justice should not in my view have an impact on this case or my analysis of the administrative and constitutional issues that arise in this case,” Joyal said.

After a closed-door case management meeting with the lawyers representing seven Manitoba churches challenging the province’s public health orders, Joyal stated John Carpary, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, was involved in the hiring of the private investigator.

“The organization that Mr. Carpay represents hired the private investigator to conduct a surveillance of me as a so-called ‘public figure,’ Joyal said.

Carpay said the public has a right to know whether or not government officials are following public health orders, adding this has been done to survey a number of public officials. He said the investigative work is for observation only.

“I was disappointed and dismayed to hear that somebody was knocking on a door and asking for someone,” Carpay said. “This is contrary to our instructions.”

Carpay also apologized for identifying Joyal as a “public figure” because the case is not yet concluded.

Court also heard that Jay Cameron, another lawyer for the centre involved in the case, was not involved in hiring the private investigative agency, but became aware of the matter a couple of weeks ago.

Cameron also apologized for the centre’s involvement in hiring a private investigator to observe the chief justice.

“The bigger issue here is the administration of justice, the systemic concern,” Joyal said.

It was concluded that, with little information gathered during the investigation, there is no concern for Joyal to be unable to impartially rule on the case

Joyal said he expects to release a decision on the case in the coming weeks.

The Winnipeg Police Service said it is aware of the situation and is investigating, but would not provide any more details at this time.

'AN INVASION OF PRIVACY'

National and provincial bar associations are criticizing the use of a private investigator against Chief Justice Joyal.

"We condemn this kind of behaviour being directed against a judge at at no time would it have any place in the conduct of a trial," said the Canadian Bar Association and the Manitoba Bar Association in a joint statement.

The organizations also point out Justice Joyal's right to privacy may have been violated.

Manitoba's justice minister has also come out against the practice of hiring a private investigator to surveil a provincial judge.

"Our government believes that no one should ever be in a position where they feel unsafe doing their job; this includes those who have been called to the bench," said Justice Minister Cameron Friesen in a statement.

"Similar situations have been experienced by the Premier recently," reads the statement.