Trustee loses suit in free speech statute test

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - STEPHANIE IP [email protected]­media.com

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.

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