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

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

Former BCTF president asks Supreme Court to reinstate dismissal of Chilliwack trustee’s civil suit

Glen Hansman’s appeal of lower court decision regarding Barry Neufeld to be heard by Canada’s highest court

Former B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Glen Hansman’s spat with Chilliwack school board trustee Barry Neufeld is now headed to the highest court in the land.

On Wednesday (Jan. 13), the Supreme Court of Canada granted Hansman’s leave to appeal a B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against Neufeld.

At issue for the various levels of courts is whether Hansman’s comments about Neufeld constituted fair comment, and whether Neufeld’s original defamation lawsuit should be tossed out.

“I’m pleased that the Supreme Court of Canada has granted my leave to appeal, and I look forward to the appeal being heard,” Hansman told The Progress Thursday.

The issue began when Neufeld filed a civil lawsuit against Hansman for defamation in 2018.

Hansman was one of Neufeld’s strongest critics over the SOGI 123 controversy and has been quoted in various media outlets as critical of Neufeld’s behaviour, calling it discriminatory, hateful, transphobic, and that Neufeld “shouldn’t be anywhere near students.”

Neufeld has been vocal in his staunch opposition to SOGI, criticism that has been labelled anti-LGBTQ and homophobic by many people. Hansman is openly gay.

Neufeld has been asked to resign from the school board by fellow trustees, and he has been censured for his comments.

He claims he has “suffered indignity, personal harassment, stress, anxiety along with mental and emotional distress,” as a result of Hansman’s criticism.

Also in 2018, the provincial government brought in the Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA) to protect individuals from defamation lawsuits when they are criticizing public officials. Hansman replied to the defamation lawsuit with his own suit through the PPPA, and before the scheduled court date for the defamation suit, Justice Alan Ross tossed it out of court in 2019.

“I find that the interest in public debate outweighs the interest in continuing the proceeding on these facts,” Ross wrote in his decision.

In 2020, Neufeld then looked to the B.C. Court of Appeal, and on June 9, 2021 the three justices at the province’s highest court sided with Neufeld. They relied in part on a 2013 academic law paper that pointed out how fragile freedom is because those who seek its protection are often those who are least sympathetic, those whose views are “offensive, confrontational, and even abusive.”

That decision in practical terms overturned the dismissal under PPPA from 2019, meaning Neufeld’s defamation case would go back to a full jury trial.

Hansman’s lawyers’ application to the Supreme Court of Canada has the aim of overturning the BC Court of Appeal decision, effectively reinstating the BC Supreme Court’s dismissal of the defamation suit.

The Supreme Court does not hear all applications it receives, in fact on Wednesday it announced it would hear two (including Hansman’s) and dismissed 10 others.

No date has yet been set for the Supreme Court hearing.

Timeline:

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 2019B.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, 2021 – The Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear Hansman’s appeal of the B.C. Court of Appeal decision.


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