A controversial Chilliwack school trustee could be in Supreme Court as soon as July, in order to defend his civil defamation suit in front of a judge.
Barry Neufeld launched the suit against Glen Hansman, the president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) last fall, following several interviews quoting Hansman’s displeasure with Neufeld.
But earlier this month, Hansman applied to have the court case dismissed under a new anti-SLAPP law, requesting dates of July 11 and 12. That hearing will take place in Chilliwack, and will put the onus on Neufeld to show the case has merit. SLAPP stands for ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’ and the legislation, which was just passed in March, is meant to help judges stop legal proceedings against people who are criticizing or speaking out against matters of public interest.
Hansman called for Neufeld’s resignation and called him transphobic in the wake of the school trustee’s own criticism of ministry-approved teaching resource called SOGI 123. Hansman said Neufeld “shouldn’t be anywhere near students.”
Neufeld claims that Hansman’s comment, and those that surfaced online and in the media caused him to suffer “indignity, personal harassment, stress, anxiety along with mental and emotional distress.”
But in the end, it didn’t cost him the election.
Neufeld handily won his long-held seat on the Chilliwack School Board last fall, and mentions this fact often at the board table. Neufeld was at the centre of the SOGI 123 debate, after posting a long statement on Facebook against the resource. SOGI stands for sexual orientation and gender identity, and SOGI 123 is a ministry-approved resource teachers can use to discuss gender identity and roles in the classroom.
For the July 11 and 12 hearing, Neufeld will have to defend why he believes the defamation suit should move forward.
This will reportedly be the first time in B.C. that a plaintiff has had to defend their defamation suit. Neufeld’s lawyer, Paul Jaffe, told The Progress via e-mail on May 23 that “we are about to be filing a 10-page response to Mr. Hansman’s recent application on the anti-slap act (sic).”
The court file between the two men is several inches thick, and includes newspaper articles, screenshots from Facebook posts and links to television coverage. The most recent document is a “notice of intention to act in person” by Neufeld, in place of his lawyer Paul Jaffe, filed on May 9.
The Attorney General’s office says a “key feature is an expedited process by which a defendant may apply to the court to dismiss a lawsuit on the basis that it impinges on the defendant’s ability to speak freely on a matter of public interest. If the court so determined, it would dismiss the lawsuit, unless the plaintiff could satisfy the court that the harm the plaintiff likely would suffer as a result of that free speech would outweigh the public interest in protecting it.”
“Lawsuits that serve to silence and financially exhaust those exercising their right of expression exploit our legal system and only serve those with significantly deeper pockets,” said David Eby, Attorney General, when the legislation passed in March. “We’re committed to ensuring a robust, healthy democracy that defends British Columbians’ fundamental rights – in part, by helping people who want and deserve the freedom to peacefully engage in public debate without fear of unreasonable and financially ruinous legal action against them.”
Neufeld is also facing two Human Rights Tribunal hearings related to SOGI 123, although the dates for those have not yet been confirmed by the tribunal. A 90-day calendar is updated sporadically and dates listed until late August do not mention either hearing.
The BCTF filed a complaint against Neufeld, as did local CUPE members.
CUPE 411 filed theirs in April 2018 and included the school board and the school district in their complaint, “for the public comments that Trustee Neufeld has made about Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation and the effects on our LGBTQ+ members and members who are parents of LGBTQ+ students…When one of us is harmed, we are all harmed and CUPE 411 stands strong with our LGBTQ+ members and members who are parents of LGBTQ+ children.”
The BCTF complaint, filed last January but not made public until last April, says that while Barry Neufeld claims he does not “hate” transgender children, “his statements subject transgender people to hatred.”