Controversial Chilliwack school trustee under fire for using offensive language

·3 min read

A controversial member of the Chilliwack Board of Education is facing backlash once again, this time for using a slur to describe staff at the Chilliwack Progress newspaper.

Trustee Barry Neufeld called publisher Tara Hiebert, editor Paul Henderson and reporter Jessica Peters the offensive word in a public Facebook post.

Chilliwack Board of Education chair Willow Reichelt said the comment was disgusting.

"The "R' word hasn't been acceptable for many decades and it would be absolutely unacceptable for anyone in the public to use that word in a Facebook statement," she said.

"But it's absolutely, completely unacceptable for anyone involved in education to be doing so."

Barry Neufeld/Facebook
Barry Neufeld/Facebook

CBC has contacted Neufeld for comment but has not heard back.

The longtime Chilliwack school trustee has faced criticism and calls to resign in the past for anti-trans comments and for denouncing SOGI, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program in B.C. schools.

In 2018, the B.C. Teachers' Federation filed a human rights complaint against him for what they called "hateful" public comments that were creating an unsafe work environment for teachers and students.

Earlier this year he was censured for a social media rant where he questioned the gender identity of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's top health official, suggesting she was untrustworthy and a "major player in the corrupt World Health Organization."

Reichelt said there is little recourse for the board in sanctioning a trustee, and no mechanism under the B.C. School Act to remove a single trustee from office.

"The Minister of Education can fire a whole board but they can't remove just one person," she said.

"This particular trustee has already been censured for past behaviour so he's already not sitting on committees, not acting as a school liaison and not attending events where staff and students are present."

'Time for him to step down'

On Twitter, B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said Neufeld should resign.

"In addition to targeting the LGBTQ community and peddling conspiracy theories about Dr. Tam and COVID-19, he is now targeting "ableist" slurs at individuals. It's time for him to step down," wrote Fleming.

Ableist language is language that is offensive to people with disability

In a statement, Black Press Media, the owner of the Chilliwack Progress, said it is aware of Neufeld's post.

"We stand behind the Nov. 5 [Chilliwack Progress] story, which accurately portrays the ongoing divisiveness within the Chilliwack school board and the conduct and behaviour which has manifested between trustees.

"Mr. Neufeld's Nov. 19 Facebook post is a reflection of that discord, and it is now the focus of appropriate public attention and response."

Reichelt said Neufeld's comments do not in any way reflect the Chilliwack Board of Education as a whole or School District 33.

"Our staff are really fantastic and they're 100 per cent committed to creating safe and inclusive space for everyone," she said.

"It's really sad to me that the actions of one individual keep painting Chilliwack as a backward place to live."

Neufeld has served as a Chilliwack school trustee from 1993 to 2008, and from December 2011 to the present.