Supreme Court of Canada dismisses defamation case in Hansman v. Neufeld appeal
May 19, 2023
On May 19, 2023, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the Hansman v. Neufeld defamation appeal. McCarthy Tétrault represented one of the interveners, Egale Canada.
Barry Neufeld was an elected public school trustee in Chilliwack, British Columbia. He posted comments online criticizing “SOGI 123”, a provincial government initiative to help educators teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. Mr. Neufeld’s comments provoked a forceful response, including from Glen Hansman, a former president of British Columbia’s public school teachers’ union. Among other things, Mr. Hansman characterized Mr. Neufeld’s views as “intolerant” and “bigoted”, condemned his comments as “transphobic”. Mr. Neufeld sued Mr. Hansman for defamation. Mr. Hansman brought an “anti-SLAPP” application under British Columbia’s Protection of Public Participation Act, seeking to have Mr. Neufeld’s lawsuit dismissed.
Mr. Hansman won in the B.C. Supreme Court, but this decision was over-turned by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s judgment is important for at least three reasons. First, it affirms the dignity and equality interests of trans individuals under Canadian law. Second, it recognizes the importance of “counter-speech” to vulnerable groups, including 2SLGBTQI+ people, and thus the weighty public interest in protecting such “counter-speech”, to which the defence of “fair comment” will often apply. Third, it confirms that, even if ending Mr. Neufeld’s lawsuit discouraged others from expressing views like his, this is not a “chilling effect” that warrants allowing his claim to continue.
Hansman is a significant victory for 2SLGBTQI+ and especially trans dignity and equality, and for those who defend 2SLGBTQI+ communities through “counter-speech”. It confirms that “anti-SLAPP” applications may properly be used to protect advocates for 2SLGBTQI+ dignity and equality against efforts to silence them through defamation suits.
McCarthy Tétrault advised Egale Canada with a team led by Adam Goldenberg that included Solomon McKenzie, Sabih Ottawa (Litigation), and Andrew Weizman (Labour & Employment).