Release: Supreme Court of Canada case to address equality implications of defamation lawsuits against marginalized people
October 11, 2022 – For Immediate Release
Ottawa, unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory – Today, West Coast LEAF is intervening at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in Hansman v Neufeld, a case that will affect the ability of British Columbians to speak out against public discourse that threatens the dignity, equality, and safety of marginalized groups. The SCC will consider the interpretation of BC’s Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA), which was enacted in 2018 to stop people who hold power from misusing the legal system to silence their critics.
“This case asks the Court to directly address the equality implications of defamation lawsuits against marginalized people and their allies,” says Kate Feeney, director of litigation at West Coast LEAF. “Now more than ever, we need to provide legal protection to those who resist and stand up to harmful rhetoric.”
The Court will consider former Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld’s defamation lawsuit against former BC Teachers’ Federation president Glen Hansman. Mr. Neufeld argued that Mr. Hansman had caused him reputational damage by describing Mr. Neufeld’s comments about transgender people as hateful and discriminatory.
Mr. Hansman successfully applied to the BC Supreme Court to dismiss Mr. Neufeld’s lawsuit under the PPPA. However, the BC Court of Appeal overturned this decision, in part because of concerns about Mr. Neufeld’s ability to express “contentious opinions” without “the risk of being tarred with negative labels (and corresponding self-censorship).”
West Coast LEAF is intervening in this case based on our long-standing interest and expertise in the relationship between freedom of expression and the substantive equality of groups who experience gender-based discrimination in society, including sexual assault survivors and transgender people. It will propose an analytical framework for making a finding that a defamation claim poses a risk of harm to a vulnerable or marginalized group.
“We are concerned that without additional guidance from the Supreme Court of Canada, courts will continue to overlook dignity, equality, and safety interests when deciding PPPA applications. In cases like this, it is crucial consider the very real possibility that the defamation lawsuit could impair equality enhancing speech,” says Adrienne Smith (they/them), a lawyer representing West Coast LEAF in this intervention.
Hansman v Neufeld will be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada on October 11, 2022.
Kate Feeney (she/her), director of litigation at West Coast LEAF
Adrienne S Smith (they/them), Counsel for West Coast LEAF