Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist by profession, shot to fame in 2016 when he began protesting against the Bill C-16. He released his own video lecture series on the subject as well—which garnered millions of views. Some people support him, while others oppose him, but who is Jordan Peterson and what are his ideas? And what is it about Bill C-16 which divided the public opinion about Peterson?
These are the questions which this article will uncover.
Who is Jordan Peterson? And what are his ideas?
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical Psychologist by profession and was a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He rose to intellectual stardom after taking a stand against “politically correct culture” and Bill C-16. He started protesting against the excesses of the cultural left. He has written several books including 12 Rules For Life, Maps of Meaning, Political Correctness, etc. While most of them are Self-help books, some are also on the idea of political correctness and its criticism, and where the left has gone wrong. He released his video lectures online on YouTube which have gathered massive views and followings, and gave him the celebrity status. Peterson’s videos on C-16 and political correctness racked up more than 400,000 views on YouTube within about a month of posting.
Although several newspapers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have described him as “conservative” and “conservative-leaning”, Peterson calls himself a “Classic British Liberal” and a “traditionalist”. He has said that he’s commonly mistaken to be a “right winger”, which he denies.
The University of Toronto said it had received complaints of threats against trans people on campus. There are complaints from students and faculties that Peterson’s comments are “unacceptable emotionally disturbing and painful” and have urged him to stop doing it.
On the other hand, Dr Peterson is concerned proposed federal human rights legislation "will elevate into hate speech" his refusal to use alternative pronouns. He argues that terms like "gender identity' and "gender expression" are too broad, and will be used by “radical social constructionists” to bully their opponents into submission. "One is silent slavery with all the repression and resentment that that will generate, and the other is outright conflict. Free speech is not just another value. It's the foundation of Western civilization," he told the BBC.
Many feckless young men have started following him—often using his ideas against the transgender community. Fans of Peterson and his ideologies saw the video as proof of his genius and bravery; Peterson was the avatar of reason and facts pushing back against irrational “social justice warriors” (SJWs). There were rallies both for and against Peterson in Toronto, and he made the rounds on Canadian television.
What is Bill C-16?
The law is an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination. That makes it illegal to deny services, employment, accommodation and similar benefits to individuals based on their gender identity or gender expression. A person who denies benefits because of the gender identity or gender expression of another person could be liable to provide monetary compensation.
Similarly, the law also amends the Criminal Code by adding "gender identity or expression" to the definition of "identifiable group" in section 318 of the Code. If there’s evidence that an offence is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate, it can be taken into account by the courts during sentencing.
It would also extend hate speech laws to include these two terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” and make it a hate crime to target someone for being transgender, publicly inciting hatred or advocating genocide.
Peterson and Bill C-16: Arguments from both the sides
Apparently, not everyone is convinced that Peterson is a thinker of substance. Last November, fellow University of Toronto professor Ira Wells called him “the professor of piffle”—a YouTube star rather than a credible intellectual. Tabatha Southey, a columnist for the Canadian magazine Macleans, designated him “the stupid man’s smart person”.
Dr Peterson's University of Toronto colleague, Dr Lee Airton, argues he is being alarmist and indulging in "slippery slope fallacies" on the limits of free speech.
"If you actually listen and you parse out the arguments, it becomes very clear that this not about freedom of speech, that this is about reducing transgendered people's needs as excessive and illegitimate," he told the BBC.
The bill was passed in the Senate. Before it was passed, there were a lot of debates and deliberations on the bill and what kind of effects it may have.
“This bill is not only about the protections it provides, but also the message that the Parliament is delivering to all Canadians about the need to treat everybody equally,” Independent Alberta Senator Grant Mitchell, who is also a longtime advocate for trans rights, said after the bill’s passage.
Few conservative senators voted against the legislation. Conservative Manitoba Senator Don Plett has called it a threat to free speech. He alleged that he feared the bill would force him to use gender neutral pronouns when addressing trans people. There is also a largely refuted myth among conservatives that this law will allow “men to pose as women to attack them in the bathroom”. Conservative Ontario Senator Lynn Beyak said, “As a woman, why would I support Bill C-16 when feminists have fought for so many years to protect women from the violence perpetrated against them by men. This will allow men to go into women’s change rooms and bathrooms across the country.”
This bill has been intensely debated, and as the trans community is happy that the bill would provide their vulnerable community, the feminists fear it could bring threat to spaces reserved for what they refer to as “female-born women”.
Critics have also voiced concerns that the law will penalize citizens who do not use specific pronouns when referring to gender diverse people.
Brenda Cossman, law professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, told CBC, “The misuse of gender pronouns, without more, cannot rise to the level of a crime,” she says. “It cannot rise to the level of advocating genocide, inciting hatred, hate speech or hate crimes … (it) simply cannot meet the threshold. Would it cover the accidental misuse of a pronoun? I would say it’s very unlikely. Would it cover a situation where an individual repeatedly, consistently refuses to use a person’s chosen pronoun? It might.”
The Canadian Human Rights Act does not mention pronouns either. The act protects certain groups from discrimination.
But now the question was, if a person disagrees to use the pronouns for a person repeatedly on purpose, will it land that person in jail? To this, Jared Brown, commercial litigator at Brown Litigation, who often works with corporate clients on employment law and human rights disputes, told CBC, “It is possible, through a process that would start with a complaint and progress to a proceeding before a human rights tribunal. If the tribunal rules that harassment or discrimination took place, there would typically be an order for monetary and non-monetary remedies. A non-monetary remedy may include sensitivity training, issuing an apology, or even a publication ban. If the person refused to comply with the tribunal's order, this would result in a contempt proceeding being sent to the Divisional or Federal Court. The court could then potentially send a person to jail “until they purge the contempt,”” he said.
Furthermore, he said that the path to prison does exist—but only in extreme cases—and it’s not that easy to get there, he mentions “The path to prison is not straightforward. It’s not easy. But, it’s there. It’s been used before in breach of tribunal orders.”
A law to protect transgender rights and allowing them to identify the way they are comfortable is indeed a progressive step for Canada. Although the laws do not impose any threat on the citizen’s safety or freedom of speech, some parts of it as argued by Mark S. Bonham is a little vague. Therefore, solutions to the problems should be addressed by the government of Canada.
However, what is also clear that Jordan Peterson’s action is just spreading misinformation and hysteria among people who are unaware of the law and are contributing towards a transphobic discourse.