If there were to be a Chilliwack newsmaker of the year award, the honour would likely go to school board trustee Barry Neufeld.
Over his two decades of public service, Neufeld’s never shied away from contentious subjects — weighing in through our letters pages on everything from the failed Sumas Energy 2 proposal, to the school district’s harassment policies, to LGBTQ issues.
So it was no surprise to many in 2017, when he spoke against a sexual orientation and gender identity inclusion program (SOGI 123), which was implemented by the Ministry of Education for all schools.
This year he was in the news as much as ever, as the ripple effects of that controversy worked their way through the legal system.
There was his defamation suit against the former BC Teachers’ Federation president Glen Hansman, and then the reactionary action by Hansman to have that suit thrown out based on new “fair comment” legislation. In the end, Hansman won and Neufeld’s defamation suit was effectively thrown out of court.
Both men had called the other names and threw accusations at each other.
Earlier in the year, a group called Culture Guard had thrown together a rally of sorts to show Neufeld support and raised funds for legal costs. He didn’t show, citing fears for his safety.
He had also been left out of liaison duties at the board level, and therefore did not schools attached to his work load as a trustee. In January, he announced during a school board meeting that he would “be doing something about it.”
“Three trustees with only one month of experience voted to treat me – with 24 years’ experience – as if I were a dirty old man. And the chair, who’s been on the board for six years … has turned against me and has treated me like persona non grata.”
He was speaking of board chair Dan Coulter. And that theme hasn’t stopped, it seems. In the last board meeting of the year, he reiterated his distaste for Coulter’s way of chairing meetings.
“I would promise to serve in more of a quasi-judicial manner,” Neufeld said. “I would not argue with members. I would let myself be open to all sides of the debate, and I would work towards a board working together in consensus.”
It’s not been made public if he ever has sued the board or school district. However, there are still at least two Human Rights Tribunal complaints in process regarding Neufeld that relate to the SOGI 123 controversy, with no indication of when they may be in front of a judge, or if they’ve been settled through mediation.
Those tribunal complaints involve CUPE 411, the union that represents Chilliwack school support workers, custodians, transportation staff, as well as the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association.