British Columbia

School trustee says he 'deeply' regrets transphobic post that downplayed COVID-19

Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld has apologized for a social media post that sparked outrage for questioning the trustworthiness of Canada's top doctor, Theresa Tam.

Barry Neufeld's statement at board meeting is 'disproportionate' to 'disgusting' post, chair says

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

Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld has apologized for a social media post that sparked outrage for downplaying the dangers of COVID-19.

"I deeply regret and apologize for my comments on social media," Neufeld said in a short statement he read at an online school board meeting last night.

He said he would be further addressing the matter "in the near future."

On Saturday, Neufeld posted a short, transphobic rant on Facebook that took aim at  the credibilty and gender identity of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's top health official, who has been leading the country's efforts to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. He also criticized the World Health Organization.

Neufeld questioned why people should believe Tam and the "corrupt" WHO, which he said is "perpetrating fear" over the coronavirus that has caused the pandemic.

His comments were shared widely by critics online, leading to renewed calls for his removal from the school board.

School District 33 Chair Dan Coulter said Neufeld's statement was "disproportionate" to what he described as the "disgusting" post, which was removed on Sunday.

On Monday, Coulter said Neufeld should apologize and resign.

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

He said Neufeld has been questioned about past posts involving his views on women.

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming also blasted Neufeld for his "crazy, conspiratorial views" and said he plans to bring the comments to the province's human rights commissioner for review.

The education ministry has no power to remove the trustee, who is not up for re-election until 2022.

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

Numerous calls and messages to Neufeld since Monday have not been returned.

Social media campaign 

Some who were outraged at Neufeld's transphobic comments created a social media campaign using the hashtag #ThisIsMyChilliwack to combat the negative perceptions he may have generated about Chilliwack.  

Many shared examples of how the city has shown inclusivity and acceptance. 

Monique Lousier, a Grade 1 teacher in Chilliwack, says she knows the city as an accepting and tolerant place.

"I've lived in Chilliwack for 24 years. That is not my Chilliwack. That is not the people, or the community, that I know and love here," Lousier said.  

In her #ThisIsMyChilliwack post, she cited the example of her son, then five, who had a fondness for wearing dresses. He received a beautiful, star-patterned dress for his birthday and decided to wear it for a Mother's Day tea at his school.

"We got out of the car, and he caught sight of some other people heading into the building and he kind of panicked a little bit," she recounted. "It was one of those moments as a parent where you have to make a judgment call and you hope that you make the right one."

Louiser and her son, still wearing his dress, went in. They received no questioning comments or looks, only acceptance. 

"I was very, very worried that my little guy was about to get his heart stomped on," she said. 

She said she shares this story with her students every year as an example of kindness and acceptance.

"It is one of their favourite stories. They ask me to tell it over and over again throughout the year," she said.  

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend

With files from On The Coast