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

Port Alberni track and field athletes excel at BC championships

Pair brings home titles in javelin, hammer throw

City of Port Alberni to discuss train station in committee of the whole meeting

City has received two “high quality” expressions of interest in redeveloping the train station

New gazebo for Alberni’s Heritage Place

SONJA DRINKWATER SPECIAL TO THE NEWS Residents of Heritage Place Assisted Living… Continue reading

Port Alberni’s SPCA asks for help after three animals undergo surgery

The Alberni-Clayoquot branch of the SPCA is making a public appeal for… Continue reading

Sproat Lake Regatta returns to Alberni Valley

Sproat Lake to host racing action from July 14-15

‘Bad choices make good stories’: Margaret Trudeau brings her show to Just for Laughs

Trudeau says over the decades she has been suicidal, manic, depressed

June sees drop in home sales, prices for real estate across B.C.: report

Sales dropped by 11.8%, while prices fell by 4%

Video captures driver narrowly avoiding hitting Granfondo cyclists in Okanagan

“I’m just glad that everything aligned enough and no one got hurt,” said Shaun Siebert

Canadian officials flagged 900 food items from China with ‘problems’ over 2 years

The scrutiny of agricultural goods has been central to a diplomatic dispute between Canada and China

Gasoline companies to speak at public inquiry into B.C. pump prices

Premier John Horgan ordered the inquiry in May when prices at the pump reached $1.70 a litre

When the hospital becomes home: B.C. girl, 7, has spent a third of her life in pediatric unit

Mother grateful for the care her daughter received at VGH Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

B.C. woman jailed for child pornography after sharing photos of grandchildren online

Grandma sentenced to 14 months behind bars for concerning and explicit online chats with stranger

Most Read