The defamation trial of Barry Neufeld wrapped up Tuesday (Nov. 21) in Chilliwack Law Courts.
The six-day trial was the upshot of the civil lawsuit between trustee Carin Bondar and former trustee Neufeld.
Counsel for the plaintiff Susanna Quail and defence counsel Paul Jaffe presented arguments and cross examination of the two witnesses in turn.
The lawsuit alleged that former school trustee Neufeld defamed Bondar when he called her a “striptease artist.”
The “striptease artist” comment about Bondar by Neufeld came 24 minutes into an hour-long internet talk show aired on Sept. 21, 2022 from Action4Canada called the Empower Hour, which was replayed in court.
Quail framed the striptease remark for the court as “false, injurious and not defensible as fair comment.”
It was hurtful and stressful for Bondar to have her reputation as an accomplished science educator wholly replaced with “an entirely fictional narrative that she is an underdog striptease artist,” Quail said in court, and general and aggravated damages are being sought.
Some people actually believed the remark, and told Bondar that they had voted for her even “despite her past.”
Quail clarified that Bondar’s PhD dissertation focused on animal reproduction and led to an interest in popular science education.
But “it’s not actually about human sexuality,” Quail underlined. “It’s about animal biology.” And it often uses pop culture to “engage viewers,” she said.
The online content the science educator has produced “is mildly titillating in a silly way,” Quail said.
Bondar’s work has been featured worldwide on the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, National Geographic, Scientific American and Animal One, and racked up millions of views.
Quail took the question to Neufeld: “And it was your honest belief that the most accurate way to describe her was as a striptease artist?” referring to the Sept. 21, 2022 appearance on the Empower Hour.
Neufeld responded: “Among other things, she’s an eminent scientist who also happens to be a striptease artist.”
Quail pointed out that he didn’t mention any of those other qualities.
He called the video “vulgar” and clarified that on the broadcast all he said was: “Richard Procee had lost the byelection to that striptease artist.”
“I didn’t mention her by name,” Neufeld testified.
Asked if it was his view that the Organisms Do Evolve video was “a striptease video,” he replied: “Not primarily. It was a parody of Miley Cyrus song.” The main purpose “was to swing back and forth naked on a wrecking ball singing ‘I came in like a wrecking ball.’”
Then was it something else “primarily?” Quail asked.
“Yes. It was a mocking insult of people who believe in creation,” Neufeld said.
“So you don’t think she’s a striptease artist?” Quail later asked.
“She was on that particular occasion,” Neufeld stated.
Quail said Bondar was subjected to a “hostile, argumentative, demeaning and unnecessarily lengthy cross examination” by the opposing counsel.
“Defendant’s counsel asked Dr. Bondar questions that gratuitously falsely described her performance in the Organisms Do Evolve video as involving writhing on the floor, simulating orgasms and more.”
Jaffe cross-examined Bondar for almost three days before putting Neufeld on the witness stand.
He contended Neufeld’s use of the descriptor “striptease artist” was an “honestly held belief” mentioned in passing during the Zoom meeting of his followers.
Jaffe suggested the “controversy” about Bondar’s work pre-dated Neufeld’s comment, but she insisted it started after the comment.
Jaffe said during his cross that Bondar resisted conceding “obvious facts” like the ongoing rift in the Chilliwack School District over SOGI 123.
Jaffe described Bondar under cross as “evasive, argumentative, dismissive, contradictory and confrontational.”
“And so my friend is absolutely right. It was a long, difficult cross examination.”
The three defences that counsel for Neufeld filed in connection with the suit were: justification, fair comment and qualified privilege.
Neufeld was asked why he posted Bondar’s video, Organisms do Evolve, on his social media.
“Well, I thought it was a matter of public interest. I didn’t think the public should know that this was an appropriate behaviour for anyone involved in the governance or supervision of children,” Neufeld testified.
It was because trustees have to maintain the “highest morality,” he noted.
The few frames of her appearing nude “was probably not as disturbing as, as some of the other lewd acts that were being performed in that video,” Jaffe said.
Neufeld added: “I found all those images very disturbing.”
He later said regarding Bondar’s work: “I have three adult daughters, an adult stepdaughter and a granddaughter.
“I do not think Carin Bondar’s behaviour online is a positive example for women. I honour and respect women, and I believe her portrayals of femininity degrades women.”
Quail said: “In this case, Mr. Neufeld pled justification and relies on the defence of justification knowing that his remark about Dr. Bondar was false and misleading.”
Bondar feels that her “years of hard work and accomplishments” as a scientist and science educator have been erased, her lawyer noted.
Bondar said she felt subjected to a “tirade of misogyny that would not stop” and said it why women don’t often dive into politics.
“Dr. Bondar testified that she now has to contend with a new identity in the public realm,” Quail added.
Closing arguments were heard Tuesday before Justice Michael Stephens, the presiding judge, and his decision on the matter will be forthcoming.
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