British Columbia

B.C. government not ruling out firing entire Chilliwack School Board to get rid of 1 trustee

B.C.'s minister of education says the government is exploring all options to remove a controversial school board trustee from his position — including firing the entire board. 

Barry Neufeld is under fire again, this time for using a slur against local reporters

Chilliwack's board of education from left: trustee David Swankey, trustee Heather Maahs, trustee Darrell Furgason, former board chair Dan Coulter (who has resigned after being elected as an NDP MLA in October's provincial election), board chair Willow Reichelt, trustee Jared Mumford and trustee Barry Neufeld. (Chilliwack School District)

B.C.'s minister of education says the government is exploring all options to remove a controversial school board trustee from his position — including firing the entire board.

"I have a high level of concern about whether the .... toxic environment created around the board table renders that board really dysfunctional," said Rob Fleming.

"We're going to look at options and make a decision going forward from there."

Chilliwack trustee Barry Neufeld has been under fire for calling reporters at the Chilliwack Progress newspaper a slur used against people with intellectual disabilities in a Facebook post.

It comes in the same year he was censured by the school board for questioning the gender identity of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's top health official in a Facebook post. And it comes three years after he faced outrage for writing "'letting little children choose to change gender is nothing short of child abuse," also in a Facebook post

Neufeld was subsequently re-elected in 2018 with the second most votes of any candidate for school board in Chilliwack. While B.C. legislation explicitly allows for the removal of an entire school board, there's nothing about individual trustees.

Fleming said the government was studying the issue, however.

"I'm going to call it hateful speech, it really makes an unsafe, unwelcoming environment in the school system that he's entrusted to administer safely on behalf of students," he said.

"And so, therefore, we're looking at every option we have to remove somebody who has time and time proven himself unfit to hold that office." 

Neufeld is currently banned from attending school board events involving students or staff and was recently banned from attending in-camera meetings of the school board. 

Chilliwack School Board chair Willow Reichelt said it "would be unfortunate" if the government fired the entire school board.

"I hope the minister finds another solution ... but I understand how some people could think that having no board would be preferable to having this particular board."

School trustee Barry Neufeld has made a series of Facebook posts that have caused outrage in the community in recent years, most recently calling local reporters a slur used against people with intellectual disabilities. (Chilliwack School Board)

'Hard cases make bad law'

In B.C. there exists no clear mechanism to remove local politicians from office outside of elections, with the exception of breaching conflict of interest rules — for which many court cases have established a very high bar.

It means local officials across B.C. are watching what the government does with interest. 

"There's a saying in law that hard cases make bad law," said West Vancouver Coun. Craig Cameron, who said he abhors Neufeld's comments.

"[Neufeld] seems to repeatedly say offensive things and obviously we don't want our elected officials doing that … but we have to be careful not to overreact and look, in the vast majority of the situations, whether the system is working or not."

Reichelt said she was torn on whether a recall mechanism was the best tool to use. 

"It's cumbersome. It's a long process. There is constantly the potential for byelections. It does have a bit of a possibility of being abused by people who get upset about more of a non-issue," she said. 

But she was hopeful a solution could be figured out. 

"We are constantly being distracted by this kind of behaviour, and it makes it … hard to focus even at board meetings on the things you're supposed to be thinking about ," she said.

"It would be really nice if we could convince people to not use social media in inappropriate ways."

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