Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld (left) and former BCTF president Glen Hansman (right).

Chilliwack ‘fair comment’ case dismissed by judge

Glen Hansman’s application to have Neufeld defamation case thrown out granted by B.C. judge

A defamation lawsuit against the former president of the BC teachers’ union by a Chilliwack school trustee has been dismissed before it even came to trial.

Trustee Barry Neufeld had filed a defamation suit against Glen Hansman, who at the time was the president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation. He launched the suit in October 2018 after Hansman responded in the media to Neufeld’s statements on the controversial SOGI 123.

In response, Hansman filed his own suit through the Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA), claiming Neufeld is a public figure and was open to being criticized without threat of defamation. That was heard in July 2019, and a court date for the defamation suit was tentatively set for this December.

But that case won’t be happening now.

Justice A. Ross released his decision on Wednesday, saying that his decision has “nothing to do with ‘correctness’ of either party’s position on that issue (SOGI 123).” He noted the intent of the PPPA legislation is “to screen out actions that have the effect of limiting a defendant’s participation in public debate. In that respect, the PPPA seeks to balance the rights of individuals to protect their reputations against the obvious benefit to a democratic society of protecting free speech and rigorous debate on issues of public interest.”

Hansman argued that he had every right to speak out against Neufeld’s comments, which he said harmed him and the LGBTQ community. Hansman is openly gay.

Neufeld said that Hansman’s comments were made in malice, and harmed him as well.

Neufeld did not prove to the court, the judge stated, that substantial damage had been done to his reputation. He called Neufeld’s evidence “skeletal at best.” Neufeld won a following election and remains on the Chilliwack school board.

One of the most controversial statements made by Neufeld was on a Facebook post in which he concedes he was posting “at the risk of being labelled a bigotted homophobe.”

Some of the things Hansman said about Neufeld in the time of the SOGI 123 debates included calling him transphobic, saying he should be removed from public office and be nowhere near students.

But in the end, Ross sided with Hansman’s argument for public debate.

“I have further found that the PPPA requires me to balance the seriousness of the harm suffered by the plaintiff (Neufeld) and the public interest in continuing the proceeding against the public interest in protecting the defendant’s (Hansman) expression. The plaintiff has an interest in claiming damages and clearing his good name. However, the public has an interest in protecting expressions that relate to public debate. In balancing those interests, I find that the interest in public debate outweighs the interest in continuing the proceeding on these facts.”

Ross’s decision now means that Neufeld’s defamation case will not go through.

This was reportedly the first time B.C.’s new “anti-SLAPP” legislation has been tested in court.

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