Trustee loses suit in free speech statute test
A Chilliwack school trustee who sued the former president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation for defamation has had his case thrown out.
Former BCTF president Glen Hansard’s application to have trustee Barry Neufeld’s defamation suit tossed is believed to be the first successful case under B.C.’s new Protection of Public Participation Act, which came into force earlier this year.
The act — also known as anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) legislation — aims to screen out lawsuits seeking to “silence or punish a person’s or company’s critics.”
“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 … ” said the decision posted this week.
In October 2017 while serving as school trustee, Neufeld made controversial comments on his Facebook page about the B.C. Ministry of Education’s SOGI 123 program.
“At the risk of being labelled a bigoted homophobe, I have to say that I support traditional family values and I agree with the College of paediatricians that allowing little children to choose to change gender is nothing short of child abuse,” read part of his post.
Neufeld’s comments prompted swift criticism, including from Hansman, who is gay.
Neufeld then launched a defamation suit against Hansman last fall, claiming his reputation had been harmed.
In response, Hansman filed under the PPPA, arguing Neufeld should have expected public criticism on a public matter.