Education council rejects minister's latest bid for documents

A Pride flag is waved during a demonstration outside the New Brunswick legislature last year against the review of Policy 713. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
A Pride flag is waved during a demonstration outside the New Brunswick legislature last year against the review of Policy 713. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

The Anglophone East district education council is rejecting a new attempt by Education Minister Bill Hogan to get his hands on financial records and documents about its hiring of lawyers to fight changes to Policy 713.

In a letter Monday, the council argued that the information is protected by solicitor-client privilege.

"All of the documents … are confidential communications between a client and its solicitor for the purpose of getting legal advice or representation," one of the council's lawyers, Darren Blois, wrote.

"I am asserting [solicitor-client privilege] over all of the documents enumerated in your letter of June 17, 2024, and refusing to produce the requested documents to you."

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Education Minister Bill Hogan has threatened to dissolve the Anglophone East district education council over its spending of tax dollars on the dispute over Policy 713, but he has yet to file the required court application. (Jacques Poitras / CBC)

That letter from Hogan told the DEC he was appointing Christopher Neal, a Saint John chartered accountant, to "investigate and inquire into the financial condition connected with the management, administration and operation" of the district.

The appointment gives Neal the powers of a commissioner under the provincial Inquiries Act, including the power to summon witnesses to answer questions under oath and to order them to turn over documents.

Hogan has threatened to dissolve the council over its spending of tax dollars on the dispute over Policy 713, but he has yet to file the required court application.

The government updated Policy 713 last year to require school staff to get parents' consent when a student younger than 16 wants to adopt a new name or pronoun at school that reflects their gender identity.

Anglophone East argued this violates the rights of 2SLGBTQ+ students under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Education Act and the provincial Human Rights Act.

In a written statement, Hogan did not respond to a question from CBC News about whether he appointed Neal to gather information for a possible court application to dissolve the council.

Darren Blois, a lawyer in Moncton, has filed a small claims action against Parking Solutions and its two listed directors after his vehicle was booted in November. He was charged $180 to have the device removed. No company is currently permitted to boot in the city and a bylaw caps the removal fee at $45.
Darren Blois, a lawyer in Moncton, has filed a small claims action against Parking Solutions and its two listed directors after his vehicle was booted in November. He was charged $180 to have the device removed. No company is currently permitted to boot in the city and a bylaw caps the removal fee at $45.

'All of the documents … are confidential communications between a client and its solicitor for the purpose of getting legal advice or representation,' one of the Anglophone East district education council's lawyers, Darren Blois, wrote in a letter. (Shane Magee/CBC)

"The DEC for Anglophone School District-East is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for educational purpose on lawyers from outside the province," the statement said.

"Under the Education Act, the Department has the authority to look into the finances of a school district to ensure that it is spending the money responsibly as budgeted and as required under the Act."

Anglophone East spokesperson Stephanie Patterson said no one from the council would do an interview.

"At this time, we are unable to provide comment," she said in an email.

Hogan wants invoices, retainer agreements, witness fees and any documents about the district seeking bids for the legal work.

The two firms representing the council are Ottawa-based Power Law and Murphy Collette Murphy in Moncton.

The Moncton courthouse on Assumption Boulevard on May 10, 2024.
The Moncton courthouse on Assumption Boulevard on May 10, 2024.

Last week, Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare heard arguments on whether the council has standing to seek an injunction blocking the changes to Policy 713. (Shane Magee/CBC)

In April, the Anglophone East council refused a similar request from Hogan for information about its hiring of the law firms, citing the same solicitor-client privilege.

The new request carries greater potential consequences if it's refused.

Under the Inquiries Act, someone who refuses to answer a commissioner's questions or turn over requested documents can be jailed for up to 30 days.

After Hogan's changes to Policy 713 last year, the Anglophone East council adopted its own policy on implementing them.

It says school staff "shall respect the direction of the student in regard to the name and pronouns they wish to be called in daily interactions with school personnel and other students."

Hogan says this doesn't comply with the provincial policy and has told the district he was repealing it.

The district education council applied for an injunction to block the implementation of the provincial changes, arguing a council can't be put in a position of violating students' rights.

Hogan argues the council can spend money from its budget "for educational purposes only" and must stop spending on the lawsuit or face dissolution.

Last week Court of King's Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare heard arguments on whether the council has standing to seek an injunction blocking the changes.

If she rules it does, she'll hear arguments in July about which expert witnesses and evidence can be admitted in the case.

The main hearing would then take place in September.