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Former school trustees sue NPA, city councillor for defamation

Denike and Woo claim they’ve been falsely portrayed as ‘intolerant’

In a notice of claim filed in BC Supreme Court Dec 18, former Vancouver School Board trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo allege that the NPA and Councillor Elizabeth Ball created a “false and misleading” portrayal of the pair as “homophobes” who are “intolerant of the LGBTQ+ and gender variant communities.” Credit: Nathaniel Christopher

Former Vancouver School Board trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo are suing the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) and NPA councillor Elizabeth Ball for defamation.

In a notice of claim filed in BC Supreme Court Dec 18, Denike and Woo allege that the NPA and Ball created a “false and misleading” portrayal of the pair as “homophobes” who are “intolerant of the LGBTQ+ and gender variant communities.”

They were expelled from the NPA caucus following a June 13 press conference in which they claimed that the Vancouver School Board’s (VSB) amendment to its sexual-orientation and gender-identity policy, which aimed to make schools more welcoming to transgender students, could negatively affect the enrolment of international students and West Side students in public schools.

Woo and Denike were the only two school trustees to vote against the policy amendment. They subsequently lost their bid for reelection in the Nov 15 municipal election.

The former trustees’ claim takes aim at a statement released by the NPA following the press conference. “The decision to expel Denike and Woo was necessary given that the two have chosen to follow their own course in various matters without consulting with the other members of Caucus,” the NPA statement reads. “The Caucus has concluded that Denike and Woo do not share the same level of sensitivity and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Denike and Woo also take issue with comments made by Ball on a June 13 broadcast of CBC Radio One’s On the Coast program.

“On an issue that is so critical to so many of us in our caucus, and that is something that is very, very clear to us how we feel about it, we simply do not feel that the two commissioners share the sensibilities that the rest of the caucus feels, and therefore it is not possible to work together any further,” Ball said at the time.

The former trustees claim that these comments have seriously injured their characters, credit and reputations and that they have suffered damage as a result. They allege the comments paint them as homophobes who do not fully support efforts to assist LBTQ and gender-variant people in Vancouver schools. They also allege that comments were published with “ulterior motive or purpose of enhancing public perception of the Defendant’s commitment to principles of inclusion and understanding of the LGBTQ+ and gender variant communities in the lead-up to the November 15, 2014 civic elections.”

The claim states that this was done to create a “false and misleading portrayal” of Denike and Woo as insensitive and non-inclusive in contrast with a party that takes clear and decisive action against people who are perceived to hold insensitive and non-inclusive views.

The suit seeks damages as well as court costs.

In a Dec 22 statement, an NPA spokesperson said the party stands by the decision to expel Denike and Woo from caucus and will “vigorously defend” the NPA and Ball.

“Denike and Woo were formally expelled from the NPA caucus last June following numerous instances of disregard for the NPA’s caucus code of conduct; a code of conduct previously agreed to and signed by all members of the Caucus,” the NPA’s statement says. “Notably, Denike and Woo had chosen to follow their own course in a variety of matters, without consulting the other members of the caucus, including matters related to the LGBTQ+ community and the updating of the Vancouver school board Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities policy.”

The NPA and Ball have 21 days from the time they were served to file their response in BC Supreme Court. None of Denike and Woo’s allegations have been proven in court.

Denike and Woo did not respond to Xtra’s request for comment by posting time.