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Jordan Peterson and Bill C-16: What does each side argue?

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Raya Tripathi

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Jordan Peterson and Bill C-16: What does each side argue?


Global Views 360

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February 7, 2021


Jordan Peterson speaking at a Free Speech Rally at the University of Toronto

Jordan Peterson speaking at a Free Speech Rally at the University of Toronto | Source: Wikimedia

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.

Senator Grant Mitchel | Source: Canada Senate Website

“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 from University of Toronto | Source: CBC.CA

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.

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July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

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