Whether or not Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld’s defamation lawsuit against former B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) president Glen Hansman will go ahead in December is still uncertain.
Hansman’s test of the province’s new anti-SLAPP legislation for the first time wrapped up on Tuesday with a judge reserving decision to a later date.
SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation, lawsuits often used by wealthy individuals or large companies to silence critics. The provincial government passed the Protection of Public Participation Act unanimously just five months ago.
The Neufeld/Hansman case is the first test of the law.
The case stems from the nearly two-year-old controversy that started when Neufeld posted on his Facebook page criticism of the gender identity teaching resource SOGI123, which is used across B.C. and was instituted by the BC Liberal government.
In the post, Neufeld claimed, among other things, that students are now being taught that heterosexual marriages are no longer the norm.
“If this represents the values of Canadian society, count me out,” he wrote. “I belong in a country like Russia, or Paraguay, which recently had the guts to stand up to these radical cultural nihilists.”
Hansman has been a vocal critic of Neufeld’s statements calling them discriminatory, hateful, transphobic, adding that Neufeld “shouldn’t be anywhere near students.”
Neufeld filed a defamation lawsuit against Hansman arguing that the criticism in the media warrants damages because he “suffered indignity, personal harassment, stress, anxiety along with mental and emotional distress.”
Hansman responded by applying to have the lawsuit dismissed under the Protection of Public Participation Act, the new legislation that targets strategic lawsuits designed to stifle criticism of public figures.
The hearing wrapped up on August 6 with the judge reserving decision to a future date.
“The Protection of Public Participation Act seeks to provide protection for expression on matters of public interest,” Hansman told The Progress Wednesday. “This is a balancing that highlights the importance of freedom of expression on matters of public interest.”
Hansman pointed to some of Attorney General David Eby’s comments upon introducing the Bill for second reading.
“What the bill proposes to do is strike a balance between a couple of values,” Eby said. “One is the value of protecting an individual’s reputation or a company’s reputation. The other is the value of a robust and rigorous debate that the courts have described as freewheeling, that can be heated, that can result in intemperate comments. But that’s part of public debate, and it shouldn’t be met with threats of litigation to stop people from talking about the issues of the day. Those are the values that this bill is aimed at addressing.”
Neufeld’s lawyer Paul Jaffe has argued that the Protection of Public Participation Act was designed to protect the “little guy” from lawsuits by large organizations with a lot of 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.”
See www.theprogress.com for updates on this story when the judgment is announced.