Education minister calls for school trustee's resignation after slur aimed at journalists

VANCOUVER — B.C.’s education minister is calling for the resignation of Barry Neufeld, a Chilliwack school trustee who recently called the publisher, editor and reporter of the Chilliwack Progress newspaper “retards” in a damning Facebook post that was changed and then retracted.

“In addition to targeting the LGBTQ community, and peddling conspiracy theories about Dr. Tam and COVID-19, [Neufeld] is now targeting ableist slurs at individuals,” Rob Fleming said in a statement released Friday. “It’s time for him to step down.”

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On Thursday, Neufeld — who was recently given a Chilliwack-Hope Community Heroes Award from Conservative MP Mark Strahl — wrote on Facebook: “I doubt if there is a more slanted newspaper than the CHILLIWACK ‘Progress!’ ”

He went on to write: “It would more aptly be called the Chilliwack REGRESS! But karma exists! They are in such dire financial straits that they had to sell their buildings and the three retards: Jessica Peters, Paul Henderson and Tara Hiebert have to work from their homes.”

Henderson is the editor of the Progress, Hiebert is the publisher and Peters is a long-time reporter.

Two hours after the statement, Neufeld amended it to read “three radicals,” then “three radical lefties.”

It was afterwards removed from Facebook. Postmedia has screen captures from each change.

Public outcry has been swift, most notably from Fleming, who added that he was “looking at all possible options that Government may have to address this situation,” though the School Act does not permit cabinet to remove an individual trustee — just an entire school board.

Chilliwack school board chair Willow Reichelt was swift to denounce Neufeld, saying it was “unacceptable for anyone to be using the R-word in 2020 and it is absolutely outrageous for a school trustee to be doing so.”

“Please know that the Chilliwack Board of Education and our staff are dedicated to creating safe and inclusive schools for all students,” she said on Twitter.

Neufeld has come under fire in the past for opposing in-class learning about gender identity.

An online petition calling for Neufeld’s resignation from the Chilliwack school board was launched Thursday night in response to the post. As of Friday morning, it had received more than 1,200 signatures.

“After slandering our local paper and reporters, and continuing to be incredibly insensitive to any minority group in our community, I call for Barry Neufeld’s resignation, and preferably removal, as school trustee for SD33 for his continued use of offensive language and complete disregard for decency in our community,” wrote Lisa Sweet, the petition’s creator.

The Chilliwack Teachers Association issued a statement Friday in which it defended the Chilliwack Progress against Neufeld’s attack.

“They are dedicated and professional journalists who are not afraid to stand up for decency and fairness and to speak out against bigotry and narrow-mindedness,” the statement said

The teachers association said there is no place in public schools for language that is “offensive, outdated, insensitive and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding and respect for students and families.”

“Hurtful slurs have no place in the inclusive classrooms of today or in a respectful and caring learning community,” the association said.

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