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

VIDEO: Terry Fox Run returns to Port Hardy for the first time since 2016

All told, Port Hardy’s Terry Fox Run raised $2,200.30 with more still coming in.

2019 FEDERAL ELECTION: Meet the candidates for the North Island-Powell River riding

In an effort to inform the North Island-Powell River riding constituents, we… Continue reading

Port Hardy celebrates Pride Day at Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre

In the evening, FISH TACO: A Seaside Drag performance was held at the Quarterdeck Pub.

Federal election: Meet the North Island candidates

We begin this series on the federal election by asking about their motivation for running.

Port McNeill Lions Club on the verge of shutting down, needs members

Stewart and Hinton hope volunteers will step forward to help them through this difficult time.

VIDEO: Liberals make child care pledge, Greens unveil platform on Day 6 of campaign

Green party leader Elizabeth May unveils her party’s platform in Toronto

B.C. forest industry looks to a high-technology future

Restructuring similar to Europe 15 years ago, executive says

RCMP conclude investigation into 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire

Files have been turned over to BC Prosecution Service

B.C. wants to be part of global resolution in opioid company bankruptcy claim

Government says settlement must include Canadian claims for devastation created by overdose crisis

Two Nanaimo residents share $5-million Lotto 6/49 prize

Jesse Logan and Teresa Winters Day matched all six numbers in Aug. 21 Lotto 6/49 draw

Island campground on the chopping block as ALC deadline looms

Owners fighting to continue facility’s operation, with a huge outpouring of support

B.C. ends ‘birth alerts’ in child welfare cases

‘Social service workers will no longer share information about expectant parents without consent’

U.S. student, killed in Bamfield bus crash, remembered as ‘kind, intelligent, talented’

John Geerdes, 18, was one of two UVic students killed in the crash on Friday night

Most Read