10/26/2016 16:09 EDT | Updated 10/27/2017 01:12 EDT

4 fired school board trustees demand B.C. minister apologize for 'defamation'

VANCOUVER — Four fired members of the Vancouver School Board are demanding a retraction and an apology from British Columbia's education minister, saying he made defamatory statements about them.

Mike Bernier dismissed all nine board members on Oct. 17 after months of bullying allegations cited by six senior managers who went on medical leave at the end of September.

The four trustees alleging defamation are with the reigning Vision Vancouver party, while another four are members of the Non-Partisan Association, and one is from the Green party.

A statement released Wednesday on behalf of the Vision trustees — Mike Lombardi, Patti Bacchus, Joy Alexander and Allan Wong — said their lawyer sent Bernier a letter saying the minister seriously defamed his clients' good names and reputations in a series of letters, media releases and leaks to the press.

"Your defamation of my clients culminated in your press conference on Oct. 17 when you accused my clients in the last few months of causing the workplace to become toxic for staff and then went on to use that (as) an excuse for dismissing the entire board," lawyer Brian Baynham said in the letter.

"My clients are not prepared to let these unfounded allegations go unanswered and have instructed me to demand that the record be set straight and a full retraction and apology be offered for the defamatory statements made of my clients that they are the cause of the senior staff feeling it necessary to take medical leave," Baynham said.

Bernier did not comment on the accusations of defamation levelled against him.

"I have just received their lawyer’s letter," he said in a written statement, adding he will respond appropriately after the letter has been reviewed.

Bernier said last week that he fired the entire board because it had failed to pass a balanced budget, as is required by law. He said the results of an audit he ordered on the board deepened his concerns.

The trustees are also seeking an apology from BC School Superintendents Association president Sherry Elwood, alleging she was the source of the bullying and intimidation allegations.

"My clients deny that they have said or done anything that could justify these allegations," Baynham said in a letter to Elwood. "They are particularly concerned that these allegations appear to be based on hearsay statements of former colleagues of yours, who were apparently alleged victims of abuse."