A lawyer for NPA trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo sent a cease and desist letter on Feb. 6 to five of their school board colleagues for alleged defamatory statements related to a controversy that erupted in December and continued into January.
Denike and Woo appeared in a video shot last year that wound up on the website for an American anti-gay marriage lobby group.
The trustees had called for greater oversight over education resources after a gay-positive provincial teaching resource called Out in Schools included a link to a gay men’s health website that featured graphic sex scenes, which they said were inappropriate for students. The booklet was reprinted with the link removed.
The footage of the trustees was also removed from the American website at the request of a lawyer hired by Denike and Woo.
A second video later emerged of Denike and Woo at a church group picnic during last year’s election campaign.
The pair addressed a primarily Chinese-speaking audience and suggested that Vision Vancouver trustees were planning to bring in an anti-bullying policy offering special protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The district has had a specific anti-homophobia policy on the books since 2004. Denike apologized in a subsequent interview with the Courier if his comments had been misconstrued.
The two NPA trustees were censured for “comments regarding their public misrepresentation of Vancouver Board of Education’s anti-homophobia policy,” at a Jan. 16 school board meeting.
Board chair Patti Bacchus also sent a letter to the Vancouver Teachers’ Federation dated Jan. 25 that outlined the VSB’s actions against Denike and Woo in response to a complaint from the VTF.
Lawyer Jonathan Tweedale of the firm Gudmunseth Mickelson, who’s acting on behalf of Denike and Woo, sent the cease and desist letter to Vision Vancouver’s Bacchus, Mike Lombardi, Ken Clement, Cherie Payne and Rob Wynen, as well as COPE’s Allan Wong.
Denike told the Courier on Tuesday he’s not happy with the censure or the letter to the VTF.
“The censure motion quite frankly had no basis in our bylaws. It’s ultra vires—hasn’t been done before. The reason it hasn’t been done before is we don’t have provision for it,” he said, adding that Bacchus didn’t present the VTF letter to the board before it was sent.
“[The cease and desist letter is] just basically saying to the trustees that they’ve stepped over the line. At this point we’re telling them to cease and desist. The issue is over. We are not doing other than saying that parents have a right to have involvement in the kids’ education. We want parental involvement and second of all we want board oversight. That’s what we’re after. With regard to all this other stuff, it’s just strictly political and stop it.”
When asked if the lawyer’s letter is keeping the controversy alive, Denike said, “No. I think we’re putting a cap on it.”
Bacchus told the Courier Tuesday that trustees would get legal advice, although it remained unclear whether the advice would come from a school board lawyer.
“I haven’t had time to discuss this with the other trustees. We will, of course, seek legal advice. Generally speaking, these kinds of letters are intended to send a bit of a chill and to silence those who would question the conduct of a public official. It’s an unfortunate tactic but our response will be handled through legal counsel,” she said.
Bacchus said trustees received dozens of emails from students, parents and other community members who were “very distressed” about the videos.
“Many are asking for the resignation of the trustees, which is not something the board has done,” she said.
“The whole issue of the trustees and videos and policy referenced has been very unfortunate. We felt it necessary to be very clear about where this district stands on support for anti-homophobia programs and the policy. From there we want to move on in a positive way.”