Top Court to Hear if BC School Trustee’s Defamation Suit Defending His Remarks on Child Gender Transition Can Proceed

By Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
September 15, 2022 Updated: September 15, 2022

The Supreme Court of Canada will consider next month whether a defamation suit against the former head of the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) can proceed, in a case that observers say could have extensive repercussions on elected officials’ willingness to speak out about their issues of concern.

Longtime Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld launched the lawsuit in 2018 following a series of events that began in October 2017, when he wrote in a Facebook post that read in part:

“At the risk of being labeled 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. But now the BC Ministry of Education [has] embraced the LGBTQ lobby and is forcing this biologically absurd theory on children in our schools.”

Glen Hansman, then head of the BCTF, condemned Neufeld in quotes to the media that appeared 11 times over the following 12 months. Hansman called Neufeld “bigoted” and “transphobic” and said he should step down or be removed as school trustee. He also said Neufeld “promoted hatred,” “exposed [trans people] to hatred,” “tip-toed quite far into hate speech,” and was “continuing to spread hate about LGBTQ people.”

In his statement of claim to the B.C. Supreme Court upon launching the suit, Neufeld said he “suffered damages to his reputation … [and] indignity, personal harassment, stress, anxiety, and mental and emotional distress.”

Hansman tried to have the lawsuit struck down soon after the Protection of Public Participation Act came into effect in March 2019. Justice A Ross of the B.C. Supreme Court agreed with Hansman in a decision on Nov. 26, 2019. However, this was overruled at the B.C. Court of Appeal on June 9, 2021. On Jan. 13 of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada granted an appeal to Hansman.

‘I Don’t Know Why Schools Are Pushing This’

The case will be heard Oct. 11, just four days before the Oct. 15 B.C. general local election in which Neufeld is running for school trustee. The former counsellor to at-risk youth told The Epoch Times that he took special exception to being called a danger to students and said that concern for students led him to speak out.

“If these girls [and boys] were flourishing I might not say anything, but they’re not. They’re miserable, they’re mad at their families, they’re mad at school, they’re mad at everybody. And then they get up into their mid-20s and realize what a stupid mistake they’ve made. We’re seeing more and more detransitioners. I don’t know why the schools are pushing this ever, even right in kindergarten,” Neufeld said.

“It’s not working. Canada’s slow. European countries are already backing away from transitioning children, and shut down the Tavistock gender clinic in England. Both Finland and Sweden now insist that kids can’t do it until they’re 18. But here in British Columbia, we’re pushing it to adolescent kids or pre-pubescent kids.”

Neufeld’s lawyer, Paul Jaffe, said that his client suffered “vicious, vicious attacks” and a “smear campaign” that included “totally absurd” complaints to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal that remain open.

“It’s been four and a half years, and the tribunal hasn’t even set a hearing date yet,” he said. “If you commit a murder, and you don’t have your trial within 30 months, it’ll get tossed.”

Jaffe said Hansman moved to have the lawsuit struck down shortly after the Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA) came into effect in March 2019 and three days before Neufeld was to receive disclosure from Hansman. The PPPA applies retroactively to legal actions started on or after May 15, 2018, bringing Neufeld’s suit within its scope.

He believes the PPPA should defend Neufeld instead of being leveraged against him.

“The whole purpose of that statute is to prevent an abusive process in the courts, generally instigated by powerful parties like governments and public sector unions and so forth, against individuals who are brave enough to speak out on contentious matters,” Jaffe said.

Neufeld is fundraising through GoFundMe for his legal fight against what Jaffe says is a broad and well-funded opposition consisting of people who are “all trying to keep Neufeld out of court.”

The Epoch Times contacted Hansman and the BCTF for comment, but didn’t hear back.

When asked for comment about lack of progress on the case as claimed by Jaffe, a spokesperson for the Canadian Human Rights Commission said the “original human rights complaint has still not been heard and no decisions have been reached, so it remains open and is still in queue to be heard.”

‘Progressive’ Court

Jaffe says the Supreme Court of Canada rarely grants a leave to appeal, such as it did for Hansman, and wonders if it will approach the case fairly.

“I’m quite concerned about how political the court has become. It’s declared itself as being progressive. There’s several judges there who make no bones about that, which tells me that they bring to the table a pre-existing disposition towards things, and this is a very unsettling,” he said.

“It’s a total free speech case. … I don’t know where we’re headed. If the courts aren’t there for people like Neufeld, I think we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Neufeld, who was first elected to Chilliwack’s board of education in 1993, says many educators and parents agree with his stance but are afraid to say so for fear of repercussions. He believes a loss at court will make things worse.

“If Glen Hansman can get away with saying that I’m not fit to be around children because of my opinion, anybody who shares that opinion will be considered unfit to be around children. So there go all the Christian schoolteachers, there go all the Christian private schools,” he said.

Heather Maahs, a school trustee who sits on the Chilliwack Board of Education with Neufeld, is also concerned about what may follow if the courts rule against him.

“If he loses, … we’re all done, because that will give permission to teachers’ union heads, any organization really, to go and tell lies and defame any elected people. If he loses that will make it legal for people to do that,” Maahs said in an interview.

“This case is going to be pivotal.”

Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.