British Columbia

Minister slams school trustee as 'destructive influence' after transphobic post that downplayed COVID-19

A controversial Chilliwack School Board trustee has attracted new outrage following a transphobic social media post targeting Canada's top health official that also downplayed the dangers of COVID-19.

Education Minister Rob Fleming says he plans to bring Barry Neufeld's comments to human rights commissioner

Barry Neufeld's views have drawn many calls for him to step down or be removed from the school board. (Chilliwack School Board)

A controversial Chilliwack School Board trustee has attracted new outrage following a transphobic social media post targeting Canada's top health official that also downplayed the dangers of COVID-19.

The comments on Barry Neufeld's Facebook page on Saturday questioned why people should believe Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and the "corrupt" World Health Organization, who he said are "perpetrating fear" over the coronavirus that has caused the pandemic.

The post had been deleted by Sunday. But by that time it had been shared widely by critics online, drawing the attention of school and provincial education officials, and renewing calls for Neufeld's removal from the board.

B.C.'s education minister sharply criticized Neufeld on Monday morning.

"This man has been an absolutely destructive influence in the education system. To have somebody with views as reprehensible, disgusting and hateful as his ... he's absolutely failing to do his job," Rob Fleming told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition.

"This is not the first time that he's stated crazy, conspiratorial views, but in the middle of a pandemic this is even more reprehensible," he added.

Fleming says he plans to bring Neufeld's comments to the attention of B.C.'s human rights commissioner.

Neufeld is an outspoken critic of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policies in B.C. public schools. Comments he made in 2017 about transgender children led to calls for his dismissal as trustee.

Chilliwack school board chair Dan Coulter said he found Neufeld's comments on Facebook "disgusting." 

"It's a conspiracy theory about COVID-19. So, that's damaging. It's against what the ministry is saying, what our school district is saying. It's against what the [Provincial] Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is saying. It's against what we are telling students and trying to teach them about social isolating," said Coulter.

But it was the transphobic comments relating to Tam that most jarred Coulter.

"That's probably the most shocking and horrible comment in the whole post and would be very insulting to many members of our school community," he said.

Coulter said he discussed the post with Fleming over the weekend. He said Neufeld, who has already been stripped of liaison duties that put him near students, should apologize and resign.

"He's at complete odds with the education system," he said.

The Chilliwack Teachers' Association has previously called on the board to officially denounce Neufeld as unfit to do his job.

"Trustee Neufeld has publicly expressed strong opinions in opposition to the changes in the B.C. Human Rights Code that was expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity," the board wrote.

Neufeld said in a release at the time that he had no plans to step down.

Fleming has said the ministry does not have the authority to dismiss individual trustees. 

Calls and messages to Neufeld on Monday morning have not been returned.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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