Barry Neufeld’s attempt to have a defamation lawsuit against him dismissed has failed.
The former Chilliwack school trustee was in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver Tuesday (Feb. 7), looking have the case thrown out.
“On the face of it, I would say it’s petty and frivolous,” Neufeld’s lawyer Paul Jaffe told Justice Michael Thomas. “But if it isn’t, where is the evidence to show otherwise? There’s no evidence other than she (complainant Carin Bondar) is upset and she’s had enough of it. It’s time I taught somebody a lesson and made a point in the court on this issue that she says she’s trying to advance. Well that’s not evidence in support of substantial merit to a libel case.”
Neufeld was sued by current school trustee Carin Bondar last October, in the midst of a heated municipal election campaign. Bondar said her political rival defamed her when he called her a “striptease artist” on an internet talk show, referring to a video she prepared for biology students in 2014 in which she parodied Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus.
In her video, Organisms to Evolve, Bondar sits on a wrecking ball as it swings back and forth, dressed in a white tank top, underwear and boots. She licks a microscope, and at one point she is nude except for her boots. Bondar never denied it was provocative, and has always defended it as a “cheeky way” to talk about evolution.
“I am not a strip-tease artist, nor have I ever been one,” Bondar said when she filed her lawsuit, describing Neufeld’s comment as a deliberate attempt to damage her reputation and hurt her chances in the election. “I am currently a full-time instructor in the Biology Department and the School of Land Use and Environmental Change at the University of the Fraser Valley.”
Pushing back against Neufeld’s counsel, Justice Thomas didn’t even touch on the merits of Bondar’s case. Instead, he suggested waiting on the decision in another case involving Neufeld which has gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. In that case, Neufeld is on the other side of the fence, attempting to sue former B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Glen Hansman for defamation.
When Neufeld put out a long anti-LGBTQ social media post about the provincial government’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) anti-bullying program in 2017, Hansman called him transphobic, saying he should be removed from public office and not be allowed anywhere near students. That case was heard last October and a decision is pending on whether Hansman’s statements about Neufeld amounted to fair comment and/or whether the harm Neufeld suffered outweighed the public interest in free speech.
Thomas said there’s no harm in waiting for that decision.
“Say I agree with you and I make the decision,” Thomas told Jaffe. “My concern is then I feel I will have to comment on that decision as other judges have done, and what’s going to happen? The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision is going to come out and my analysis will be substantially changed.”
Not waiting, Thomas suggested, could lead to a string of appeals that drags the case on for years.
Jaffe countered that his client is 75 years old. His reputation is already damaged by this, and will be further damaged the longer it continues.
“Through the publicity generated at the outset of this, he’s been quite defamed,” Jaffe said. “Words like misogynist and all these horrible permutations, conveyed through the media and directed at him, he lost his school board seat. Now we can’t pin that necessarily on this, but she did great and he did terrible and he’s now living in a community with the stigma of being misogynist.
“In a way, he wants his own reputation vindicated.”
Thomas ajourned the case until the Supreme Court of Canada hands down its decision on Neufeld vs Hansman.
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