Controversial Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld’s defamation case against former B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Glen Hansman is finally over.
Neufeld went out of his way in 2017 to attack the Ministry of Education’s SOGI 123 program aimed to foster inclusion for students who face discrimination because of gender identity.
The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decided Hansman’s comments in 2018 calling Neufeld’s statements bigoted, transphobic and hateful are considered fair comment.
In the decision released Friday (May 19) morning, the SCC decided the first judge who dismissed Neufeld’s defamation lawsuit was correct in finding that the suit had the effect of suppressing debate on matters of public interest.
When the B.C. Court of Appeals overturned that decision, it erred.
“(The original judge) determined the value in protecting Mr. Hansman’s expression outweighed the harm Mr. Neufeld likely suffered.”
Writing for the majority on the SCC, Justice Andromache Karakatsanis said Neufeld suffered limited harm as he continued to express his views and even won re-election a year later.
“[T]he closer the expression lies to the core values of [freedom of expression], including truth-seeking, participating in political decision-making and diversity in the forms of self-fulfillment and human flourishing, ‘the greater the public interest in protecting it’” Karakatsanis concluded, stating that Hansman’s speech aligned with these values.
Hansman’s application that was allowed by the B.C. Supreme Court was under the Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA). It was decided that the protection of Hansman’s expression outweighed the harm done to Neufeld.
It was under the PPPA’s public interest weighing exercise where the SCC determined the original judge was correct and the appeal court was not.
“In (this) case, Hansman’s expression is counter‑speech motivated by a desire to promote tolerance and respect for a marginalized group in society,” the SCC found. “Hansman spoke out to counter expression he perceived to be untrue, prejudicial towards transgender and other 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, and potentially damaging to transgender youth.”
All but one SCC judge concurred with the majority decision. Justice Suzanne Côté dissented.
“The question is not whether the court agrees with either party’s expression, but whether N’s action should be dismissed at this early stage of the proceeding,” Côté wrote. “It should not. Neufeld deserves to have his day in court.”
Neufeld himself is not without a history of insulting others publicly.
In 2020, the school board censured Neufeld after he made social media posts questioning the gender identity of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s top doctor.
That same year he came under fire when he used an ableist slur to insult a Chilliwack Progress reporter, the editor, and the publisher.
October 2018 – Chilliwack Board of Education trustee Barry Neufeld files civil defamation suit against Glen Hansman who was then the president of the B.C. Teachers Federation. Hansman responded by filing a counter suit through the Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA)
November 2019 – B.C. Supreme Court Justice Alan Ross dismisses Neufeld’s lawsuit citing the PPPA
November 2020 – The B.C. Court of Appeal hears Neufeld’s appeal of the lower court’s dismissal
June 9, 2021 – The B.C. Court of Appeal accepts the appeal, ordering the defamation lawsuit to continue.
January 12, 2022 – The Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear Hansman’s appeal of the B.C. Court of Appeal decision.
May 19, 2023 – SCC decides the original judge at the B.C. Supreme Court made the right decision and the B.C. Court of Appeal erred. Neufeld’s defamation lawsuit is over.
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