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Judge sides with suspended Greater Victoria School Board trustees

B.C. Supreme Court justice found the board did not have the ‘implied authority’ to suspend the two trustees from their duties
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Greater Victoria School Board office. TIMES COLONIST

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled in favour of two Greater Victoria School Board trustees who were suspended by the board in February after allegations of bullying and harassment involving Twitter posts.

Rob Paynter and Diane McNally had requested a j­udicial review after they were suspended until October, effectively ending their current terms, since elections for school board trustees and municipal councils are being held Oct. 15.

Justice Briana Hardwick said the board “does not have the implied authority to suspend either of them from their duties.”

She said that was in part because the power of suspension until the end of their terms “would improperly deprive the electorate of their right to choose their ­educational representatives.”

Paynter’s lawyer, Nicholas Vaartnou, said the court found that the suspensions were beyond the provisions of the School Act.

Both Paynter and McNally are running for another term in office, and plan to attend Monday’s regularly scheduled board meeting.

“The fact that five members of the board took away my vote and my ability to function as an elected official was beyond their scope,” McNally said. “So procedural fairness was bypassed in this.”

She said the decision is good for “local democracy and for democracy in general.”

Board chairman Ryan Painter said the decision is being reviewed and trustees “will be considering our options at this time.”

“What is most important is that the community has a board of education that can properly function in an honest, legal, and respectful way to further the interests of our students,” he said. “At present, we do not have any further comment.”

Paynter said he was always confident in his and McNally’s stance but has mixed feelings about the outcome, since the case wasted a lot of money that could have gone into education. “That really saddens me.”

He said more direction could have been provided by the Ministry of Education. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside has previously called the situation “a local governance matter.”

The board had initiated a third-party investigation into Paynter and McNally that found alleged inappropriate comments were largely made on Twitter. A letter earlier this year from Painter said that the two were among trustees linked to the use of public forums in May 2021 to ­disparage employees, including then-­superintendent Shelley Green.

Their comments were part of the reason that Green’s employment was ended by mutual agreement, with a letter of ­apology to her later read into the public record. The trustees’ suspensions came after complaints made in July 2021.

Several groups — including the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, the Songhees First Nation and the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils — opposed the suspensions, arguing the process lacked transparency.

VCPAC president Tracy Humphreys called the court decision “great news” and said her group felt the absence of Paynter and McNally at board meetings was undemocratic.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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