Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld (left) will have to prove the merit of a defamation case this week in B.C. Supreme Court. (File)

Ex-BCTF president asks judge to dismiss anti-SOGI trustee’s defamation suit

First test of what’s known as anti-SLAPP legislation in B.C.

Newly-introduced anti-SLAPP legislation got its first airing at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver as a former president of B.C.’s teachers’ union seeks to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against him.

The case centres around comments Glen Hansman made about Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld after Neufeld criticized SOGI123, a B.C. initiative to bring understanding of gender identity and expression to classrooms.

In a Facebook post in October 2017, Neufeld said he “could no longer sit on his hands” and watch schools teach “the latest fad” that has turned into a “weapon of propaganda” for gender theories.

Hansman, president of the BC Teachers Federation at the time, was quoted in the news media as saying Neufeld’s comments were “bigoted” and that he had “breached his duty as a school trustee,” and thus should resign or be removed.

Neufeld filed a defamation lawsuit against Hansman in October 2018, claiming his remarks caused him “indignity, personal harassment, stress, anxiety along with mental and emotional distress.”

Hansman has applied to have the lawsuit dismissed under new legislation that targets strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP. Judges can use it to stop lawsuits that seek to block criticism of issues of public interest.

This case is the first since B.C. Attorney General David Eby brought in the legislation in the spring.

On Thursday before the hearing began, Hansman said he is not misusing anti-SLAPP legislation, as Neufeld claimed.

“Both of us are public figures,” Hansman told Black Press Media. “Me being able to make comments about him in his role as a trustee is fair game. If you’re in public office, you need to be prepared for people to make fair comment.”

Neufeld’s counsel, Paul Jaffe, said the anti-SLAPP law is designed to protect the “little guy” from large organizations that wield a lot of legal power.

“It’s ironic that we are here today with the BCTF, which is a union with 45,000 teachers, who are helping with hearing this case,” he said. “Their lawyers are here, all their materials are compiled by the union.”

As a public figure, Neufeld is open to criticism as part of Canada’s protection of free speech, Jaffe said, but the courts must weigh Hansman’s freedom of expression against Neufeld’s right to not have his reputation destroyed, “unfoundedly.”

“Is it permissible for proponents of SOGI to characterize those who disagree with them as promulgating hate speech, which is a Criminal Code offence, and as being transphobic, homophobic, bigoted and intolerant?” said Jaffe.

“Or does civil debate in a free democratic society acknowledge different opinions and embarking on a campaign to absolutely destroy someone’s reputation?”

The hearing was scheduled over two days.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Qualicum Bay writer Linda Tenney dies after battle with cancer

Celebration of life set for Nov. 2 at Lighthouse Community Centre

Parksville Qualicum Beach legions set to launch Poppy Campaign

Annual fundraiser to run from Oct. 25 to Nov. 11

Bear sightings up significantly in Parksville Qualicum Beach area

Fruit trees number one food attractant, says conservation officer

Parksville Qualicum Beach crime report: Thieves pilfer laptops, tools, big-screen TV, cash and more

Oceanside RCMP received 256 complaints between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5.

Pole-climbing thieves pilfering wire in Parksville Qualicum Beach area

Repairs are costly and thefts jeopardize public safety

Union says Western Forest Products refuses to budge from ‘unreasonable concessions’

According to a press release, both parties met on Oct. 16, 18, 19, and 20.

Alberta man pleads guilty, fined for hunting without a licence in North Island

It’s the responsibility of each hunter or angler to know whether they are considered a B.C. Resident.

B.C. mayor apologizes for removal of Queen’s portrait from council chambers

‘I prefer to be inclusive of the many aspects of our history’

Environment Canada issues gale warnings for western Vancouver Island

Gale warnings in effect for most of Vancouver Island and west coast Mainland

Report suggests new BC Ferries terminal near YVR

Metro Vancouver currently has two ferry terminals at northern and southern reaches

B.C. woman must pay $1,000 after unleashed dog bites another

Owner should never have left Bibi unattended, tribunal member wrote

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

Rare bird spotted in Victoria draws enthusiasts from across the continent

It’s the first time a yellow-browed warbler has been reported on the mainland of North America

Most Read