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Calling rival ‘that striptease artist’ costs former B.C. school trustee $45K

Chilliwack school trustee Carin Bondar wins defamation suit over Barry Neufeld’s talk show comment
Carin Bondar (Photo: Chilliwack School District); and Barry Neufeld (Photo: Facebook).

Chilliwack school trustee Carin Bondar said she was “relieved and vindicated” after winning her defamation suit against ex-trustee Barry Neufeld.

It was Neufeld’s characterization of Bondar on an internet talk show as “that striptease artist” during the 2022 school board election campaign that was deemed defamatory by Justice K. Michael Stephens, in his reasons for judgment released April 11.

The judge ordered Neufeld to pay Bondar general damages of $35,000 and punitive damages of $10,000, adding that “no defences were made out.”

READ MORE: Trial of defamation lawsuit wrapped last fall

In his reasons the judge said the impugned words were “objectively insulting (beyond mere words of abuse that injure a plaintiff’s feelings) and demeaning to Dr. Bondar, a woman who was running for school board trustee in her community,” and noted Neufeld refused to apologize or retract the comment.

The judge’s reasons contend Mr. Neufeld was “inaccurately equating, or substantially equating, a fleeting image” of Bondar being shown naked from behind in her science-focused video with that of a ‘striptease artist.’”

“This was an effort to discredit his opponent in a school board trustee election, which crossed the line and constituted defamation,” Stephens wrote in his conclusion.

He said it was not an accurate characterization, and denied all three defences Neufeld presented during the trial of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege.

The judge pointed out the comment did not “give the factual context for her performance: she was clothed for the vast majority of it; the topic of the spoken words was science-themed; and she did not remove her clothing.

“In short, she was not, and did not perform as, a striptease artist in the parody video.”

Neufeld acted with “reckless indifference as to the truth” with the comment, the judge wrote, however he noted Neufeld testified that he “did honestly believe Dr. Bondar was” a striptease artist, and for that reason he denied aggravated damages.

The remark in question was referring to an educational video Bondar made on the topics of evolution and natural selection in 2014, a parody of the Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball video.

“I am not a striptease artist, nor have I ever been one,” Bondar said when she launched the lawsuit, adding she was an adjunct professor in biology at the University of the Fraser Valley. Her lawyer fired off a cease-and-desist letter to Neufeld, suggesting his remark was a deliberate attempt to damage Bondar’s reputation and hurt her chances of winning the election.

Neufeld had stated in court it was his “honestly held belief – a person who makes a video first scantily clad, then totally nude, except for rubber gum boots, in my mind, that was a striptease artist.

“And I knew my audience would know who I was referring to, but I did not mention her by name,” Neufeld testified. “It was not mudslinging, it was just a fact as I saw it …”

The judge accepted his testimony that he subjectively believed it.

“Although he was wrong in that belief, I find that that was his subjective honest belief, and case law “requires that I find that such a subjective honest belief negates the possibility of finding actual malice on Mr. Neufeld’s part, and defeats a claim for aggravated damages.”

The judge also dismissed the argument in Neufeld’s defence that Bondar had “willingly entered an ideologically charged political arena” that is known for use of “harsh language aimed at discrediting one’s opponent.”

“Further I do not find that Dr. Bondar brought this action for a collateral purpose as Mr. Neufeld contends in his written submissions at trial. While Dr. Bondar was nevertheless elected as school board trustee, she has experienced stress and anxiety” from the whole ordeal.

Neufeld said in an emailed statement about the judge’s decision: “It was disappointing that I lost but not surprising: the judge was a recent Trudeau appointment. If she hopes to collect her damages, she will have to wait in line! Glen Hansman is trying to figure out how to get me to pay $220,000!”

Upon being notified by her lawyer that they had won their lawsuit, Bondar said she felt “relieved and vindicated” because she had been prepared for the worst. It felt “serendipitous” as Bondar had just delivered a keynote speech at the Science Talk conference in Portland before a roomful of young science communicators.

“It feels healing. Now I can move forward.”

READ MORE: Defamation trial opens on comment during election campaign

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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