Glen Hansman v. Barry Neufeld
(British Columbia) (Civil) (By Leave)
Courts - Libel and slander - Torts — Libel and slander — Anti-SLAPP legislation — Appellant applying to summarily dismiss respondent’s defamation action in relation to appellant’s public statements that were published and broadcast — Did the Court of Appeal err in overturning the chambers judge’s dismissal of the action on the basis of the fair comment defence? — Did the Court of Appeal err in overturning the chambers judge’s conclusion that the public interest in continuing the proceeding did not outweigh the public interest in protecting the defendant’s expression? — Protection of Public Participation Act, S.B.C. 2019, c. 3, s. 4.
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The appellant, Glen Hansman, is a gay man and teacher, and at the time of the events in question, he was also the President of the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation (“BCTF”). The respondent, Barry Neufeld, is an elected public school board trustee in the Chilliwack School District in B.C.
The B.C. Minister of Education, after consultations with stakeholders, published age-appropriate tools and resources for teachers of children from Kindergarten through Grade 12, with the goal of promoting inclusive environments, policies and procedures in schools regarding sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI 123”). Mr. Neufeld posted negative comments and criticisms about the implementation of SOGI 123 materials on his Facebook page. His comments attracted significant criticism and media attention. In his capacity as President of the BCTF, Mr. Hansman was interviewed about Mr. Neufeld’s post. Mr. Neufeld alleged that Mr. Hansman defamed him in that interview and in subsequent statements that were broadcast and published in the press and online. Public debate on SOGI 123 materials continued for over a year.
Mr. Neufeld filed a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Hansman. Mr. Hansman applied to have Mr. Neufeld’s action dismissed under s. 4 of the Protection of Public Participation Act, S.B.C. 2019, c. 3 (“PPPA”), commonly known as anti-“SLAPP” legislation which allows for the possibility of early dismissal of “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”.
The application judge granted Mr. Hansman’s application for dismissal of Mr. Neufeld’s defamation action, finding that Mr. Hansman had established the necessary grounds for a dismissal under the PPPA and concluding that the public interest in allowing debate over this issue outweighed the public interest in allowing Mr. Neufeld to continue his defamation proceeding against Mr. Hansman. The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed Mr. Neufeld’s appeal, holding that the application judge made several errors, and allowed Mr. Neufeld’s defamation action against Mr. Hansman to go forward.
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