Two Vancouver lawyers filed a petition in BC Supreme Court this morning asking the court to remove Chilliwack School Board trustee Barry Neufeld from office, and disqualify him from standing as a candidate for election in the future.
Vancouver Lawyers Adrienne Smith and Neil Chantler filed the petition on behalf of Chilliwack resident Peter Lang.
“This is a case about the accountability of elected local government officials,” Smith said in an emailed statement.
Lang’s petition relies on the finding of the Chilliwack School Board that Neufeld violated the conflict of interest rules in the School Act when he disclosed information from an in camera meeting of the Board on Oct. 5, 2020.
“The elector alleges that Trustee Neufeld broke the rules around sharing information from the in camera meeting; and more significantly, that he knowingly participated in a meeting which put him in a conflict of interest,” Smith said.
“The Chilliwack Board of Education considered Trustee Neufeld’s conduct, and found that he violated Section 58 of the School Act- which required that trustees not participate in discussions about issues in which they have a financial interest. The Board also found that Trustee Neufeld violate the Board’s policy on in camera meetings, and the Code of Conduct.
The in camera conversation in question involved discussion of a Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) complaint filed against Neufeld for his public statements about the anti-bullying SOGI 123 program that “created an unsafe work environment for CUPE members and other Board employees.”
A similar complaint was filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal for public comments Neufeld made about transgender children.
There was discussion in the closed meeting about a proposed resolution to the CUPE complaint, specifically an apology and a payment of funds to an LGBTQ organization.
As the sole respondent to the CUPE complaint, the petition argues that Neufeld should have recused himself from the meeting. Not only did he not recuse himself, he complained that the complaint would cost him $50,000, a reference to damages in the CUPE complaint.
The petition to the BC Supreme Court argues this was “in contravention of his oath of office, the pecuniary interest prohibition in section 58 of the School Act, and Chilliwack School Board policy.”
He was also “specifically advised that he could lose his seat if he declined to recuse himself,” Smith explained.
“Since then the Board has asked Trustee Neufeld to resign. He has not.”
Neither the Board nor the Minister of Education have the power to remove a single trustee from office. After several ethical violations and transgressions of school board policy led to Neufeld being disallowed in schools and banned from further school board in camera meeting.
Special advisors have been appointed by the provincial government to watch the Chilliwack Board of Education, and their report is expected by the end of February.
In their statement, Smith said that Lang is disappointed that the Board’s energy has had to focus on issues like this.
“He is hopeful that after the installation of the trustee who was elected this weekend in a byelection, and the timely resolution of this case, that the Chilliwack School Board can get back to the responsible and inclusive administration of Chilliwack public schools.
“The litigation is funded by Affiliates of the BC Federation of Labour, who are amplifying the call of union workers, concerned parents, and those demanding equity in schools in Chilliwack.”
Smith said there is legal precedent for removing a school board trustee in this way, one a case from Alberta and another from B.C. under the old School Act.
Neufeld has not yet been served with the petition so has not responded. He did not immediately reply to a request by The Progress to comment.
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