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

UPDATE: U.S. firm fined $2.9M for fuel spill that soiled B.C. First Nation territory

The Nathan E. Stewart spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016

No delivery services hard on local families

New parents Candace Knudsen and Bjorn Samuelsen spent five weeks away from home

UPDATED: Vehicle strike likely caused death of grizzly cubs

The cubs were discovered on June 30 on Thorsen Creek Road

B.C. to begin increasing coastal log export charges

New fees based on harvest cost, cedar no longer exempt

Three more earthquakes off north and central B.C. coasts

No tsunami or damage reported after the aftershocks in near Bella Bella, Port Hardy and Haida Gwaii

VIDEO: B.C. MLA Michelle Stilwell takes first steps in nearly 30 years

‘It actually felt like walking. It’s been 27 years… but it felt realistic to me’

Report of dead body in B.C. park actually headless sex doll

This discovery, made at Manning Park on July 10, led police to uncovering two other sex mannequins

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Dog recovering after being drenched in hot coffee, B.C. man charged

Man was taken into custody, charged, and released pending a court date

Taekwondo instructor, 21, identified as B.C. bat rabies victim

Nick Major, 21, an instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville

Science expedition to Canada’s largest underwater volcano departs Vancouver Island

Crews prepared for a two-week research mission to the Explorer Seamount

B.C. shipyard to get one-third of $1.5 billion frigate-repair contract

The federal government has promised to invest $7.5 billion to maintain the 12 frigates

Worried about bats? Here’s what to do if you come across one in B.C.

Bat expert with the BC Community Bat Program urges caution around the small creatures

B.C. on right road with tougher ride-hailing driver rules, says expert

The provincial government is holding firm that ride-hailing drivers have a Class 4 licence

Most Read