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'We don’t tolerate bullying': New Brunswick education council files appeal

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The vice-chair of a New Brunswick education council believes they are being bullied by the province’s education minister.

In an interview with CTV News on Wednesday, Anglophone East School District Education Council (DEC) vice-chair Dominic Vautour responded to Education Minister Bill Hogan’s comments about legal fees incurred over Policy 713.

A year ago, the province changed the policy regarding the use of names and pronouns in schools.

The DEC has been fighting that move ever since and took the province to court over it.

Hogan is attempting to dissolve the council because he believes they have misappropriated funds on legal fees to protect students.

The council has spent over $408,000 on legal fees.

In a sternly worded letter sent to Vautour and chair Harry Doyle on Monday, Hogan said their actions have been “irresponsible and grossly negligent.”

Vautour said the accusation of misappropriating funds is baseless.

“He is threatening myself and Mr. Doyle with personal litigation, which we feel is bullying. We don’t tolerate bullying or intimidation in our schools and we will not be bullied or intimidated by the minister,” said Vautour. “We felt that we’ve been bullied by the minister ever since we began this fight.”

On Friday, a judge in Moncton ruled in favour of the province’s lawyers saying the council didn’t have the standing to bring the challenge before the court in general.

The DEC filed an official appeal on Tuesday against that court decision over its challenge of the Department of Education’s Policy 713.

In the letter, Hogan said there will be no further payments made to legal firms and the province will “reserve our rights” to bring action in seeking repayment of $408,374.66 from Vautour and Doyle in due course.

Vautour said they don’t feel like they could personally be held liable for the actions of the council as they were acting in good faith in the execution of their duties as publically elected officials.

On Tuesday, the DEC sent a newsletter in response to Hogan’s letter and to address to province’s decision to attempt to dissolve the DEC through the courts.

“This unprecedented action represents a stark authoritarian power grab that places not only the integrity of our educational system but also the very fabric of our democratic society in jeopardy,” stated the release.

CTV News reached out to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to see if Hogan had a comment on the DEC’s news release.

"I believe the letter explains the department's position. I have nothing further to add," said Hogan in an email.

Vautour explained why it has been so important to the council to fight the province over the matter.

“Whether it’s Policy 713 with the LGBTQ community or any other group of students, whenever you single out one group and discriminate against them, as we feel 713 is doing, we need to fight for that,” said Vautour. “We’re not going to tolerate any kind of harassment, any type of discrimination. Anything that could potentially be harmful to our students we’re not going to tolerate and we’re going to fight back.”

While he believes gender identity in schools is a cause worth fighting for, Vautour didn’t think the issue with the province would go this far.

“We felt that we could reason with the powers that be and discuss this and come to an amicable solution. Unfortunately, this has escalated. We’ve not had any willingness from the minister to discuss any type of arrangement that we could make to either strengthen the policy, modify the policy or even just sit down and talk about the policy,” said Vautour.

Vautour said the DEC is committed to defending the rights and well-being of its students.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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