Sunday, February 7, 2021

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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February 25, 2021 12:44 PM

Constructing Panopticon: Israeli Surveillance Technology and its Implications for the Palestinians

Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher and social theorist designed ‘Panopticon’ in the late 18th century. The panopticon is an institutional building which Bentham describes as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind in a quantity hitherto without example”. The structure's central observation tower, placed within a circle of prison cells, allows a watchman to monitor the inmates of the building without the dwellers knowing whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for a single watchman to observe all the occupants at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that they are motivated to act as though they are being watched at all times. Thus, compelling the inmates to regulate their own behaviour.

Michel Foucoault, a French Philosopher, uses panopticon as a metaphor to explore relations between systems of social control and people in a disciplinary situation. For Foucault, the real danger was not that the individuals are repressed by the social order but the fact that when only certain people or groups of people control knowledge, oppression is a possibility. Contemporary society uses technology for the deployment of panoptic structures ‘invisibly’ throughout society.

This article gives an overview of the massive panopticon that is built and operated by Israel in Occupied Palestine.

Israel’s unaccountable military rule over its Palestinian citizens in east Jeruselum, West Bank and Gaza Strip have kept the Palestinians under constant surveillance and control. As per a report by Amitai Ziv on Haaretz, Israel’s surveillance operation against Palestinians is (as of 2019) “among the largest of its kind in the world. It includes monitoring the media, social media and the population as a whole.”

Among various mechanisms of surveillance, the technological mechanisms of surveillance and control deployed or proposed in the region of Gaza Strip is most empowering to Israel in terms of gathering ‘intelligence’. This includes use of biometric identity cards, Israeli access to Palestinian census data, almost complete access to and control of the telecommunication infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, the ability to track individuals via cell phone, large surveillance zeppelins which monitor the entire electromagnetic spectrum and which can usurp control of these from Palestinian operators (for instance sending text messages to subscribers targeting different demographics) as well as optical surveillance, facial recognition technology, remote controlled and robotic machine gun towers guarding the border that are capable of identifying a target and opening fire automatically—without human intervention.

In the context of occupation, the use of biometric ID cards of Israeli citizens is the sharpest seepage of control technologies.  For a long time, Israel has used a system of differentiated ID cards to distinguish between Jewish and Non-Jewish, citizens and residents of Israel, and citizens and residents of the occupied territories.

These ID cards also have a record of ethnic/religious affiliation of the person, and the ID numbers themselves are coded so as to reflect this information. One’s status of whether they are an Israeli or Palestinian, whether they are a citizen or a resident determines their freedom to travel, their ability to find jobs, and even their ability to get married and avail social benefits.  The Palestinians in East Jerusalem—which was annexed after the 1967 war—are considered as “conditional residents” and not citizens. According to a Human Rights Watch report, a resident of Palestine occupied Israel reported that the Israeli authorities refused to issue birth certificates to his five children, all born in Jerusalem. Other Jerusalem residents without residency status, in their testimonials, described being unable to legally work; obtain social welfare benefits; attend weddings and funerals; or visit gravely ill relatives abroad, for fear Israeli authorities would refuse to allow them to return home.

Another significant technological mechanism is the Facial recognition technology which has found its way into use by Israeli police. Facial recognition system, a globally controversial and scientifically flawed system is being used by the police force in Israel to identify protestors and is also implemented at airports and border crossings.

Israel has also ratcheted its social media surveillance, especially Facebook, Palestinians’ preferred platform. In October 2015, Israeli invasion at the Al-Aqsa Mosque angered several Palestinians. Many teenagers who didn’t belong to military wing or the Palestinian political faction orchestrated the attacks. The Israeli government blamed the social media for instigating the attacks and the military intelligence increased the monitoring of Palestinian social media accounts. Consequently, over 800 Palestinians were arrested for their posts on social media, particularly Facebook. It was later revealed that these arrests were a result of a policing system which uses algorithms to build profiles of supposed Palestinian attackers. This system proctors thousands of Palestinian Facebook accounts sifting for words like shaheed (martyr), Zionist state, Al Quds (Jerusalem), or Al Aqsa. Further, the algorithm identifies a “suspect” based on ‘prediction’ of violence. These targets are marked suspicious and are a potential target for arrest on the grounds of “incitement to violence”. The term incitement refers to all types of resistance to Israeli practices. The Israeli Army declared Military order 1651 in 2010, according to which, anyone who “attempts, orally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the West Bank area in a manner which may harm public peace or public order” or “publishes words of praise, sympathy or support for a hostile organization, its actions or objectives,” will serve a jail time of 10 years. The order defines this as “incitement”. One notable instance has been the poetry of Dareen Tatour. She is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. She expressed her call to “resist” the occupiers through a poem she posted online in October 2015. The video had less than 300 views. But it resulted in nearly three years of house arrest and five months imprisonment. The Israeli government charged Tatour with inciting violence and terrorism while her poem was a call for a non-violent resistance. This incident is a classic demonstration of how Israel uses vague terminology to criminalize online activity when it serves its discriminatory interests.  

Israel’s military industrial complex is a profound enabler of the digital surveillance of Palestinians. The nation not only implements surveillance and control but also manufactures and exports a massive amount of military and cyber security technologies. A report published by Privacy International—an NGO that investigates government surveillance and companies—in 2016—stated that Israel has about 27 surveillance companies which is the highest per capita in terms of surveillance that any country has in the world.

The Guardian collected testimonies from people who worked in the Israeli Intelligence Corps to understand the big brother surveillance of the Palestinians. One of the testimonies revealed that commoners and even completely innocent people were under the radar of surveillance. The attestor stated “As a soldier in Unit 8200, I collected information on people accused of either attacking Israelis, trying to attack Israelis, desiring to harm Israelis, and considering attacking Israelis. I also collected information on people who were completely innocent, and whose only crime was that they interested the Israeli security system for various reasons. For reasons they had absolutely no way of knowing. All Palestinians are exposed to non-stop monitoring without any legal protection. Junior soldiers can decide when someone is a target for the collection of information. There is no procedure in place to determine whether the violation of the individual’s rights is necessarily justifiable. The notion of rights for Palestinians does not exist at all. Not even as an idea to be disregarded.”

Another testimonial exposed that the data collected was hardly in accordance with the security needs. The testimony stated, “Throughout my service, I discovered that many Israeli initiatives within the Palestinian arena are directed at things that are not related to intelligence. I worked a lot on gathering information on political issues. Some could be seen as related to objectives that serve security needs, such as the suppression of Hamas institutions, while others could not. Some were political objectives that did not even fall within the Israeli consensus, such as strengthening Israel’s stance at the expense of the Palestinian position. Such objectives do not serve the security system but rather agendas of certain politicians. One project in particular, was shocking to many of us as we were exposed to it. The information was almost directly transferred to political players and not to other sections of the security system. This made it clear to me that we were dealing with information that was hardly connected to security needs. We knew the detailed medical conditions of some of our targets, and our goals developed around them. I’m not sure what was done with this information. I felt bad knowing each of their precise problems, and that we would talk and laugh about this information freely. Or, for instance, that we knew exactly who was cheating on their wife, with whom, and how often.”

While hidden and unknown surveillance is prominent, Israel has also imposed explicit panopticon surveillance and restrictions on Palestinians in numerous cases. In the village of Beit Ijza, northwest of Jerusalem, the house of Gharib’s family has been enclosed by a 6-meter-high fence, cutting them off from their olive gardens and rest of the village as Israel claimed ownership of the land surrounding the Gharib family's house and created a West Bank settlement over there. The house was built in 1979 on land the family says has belonged to them from as far back as the Ottoman era. “Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank, Jews have been offering my father to sell the house,” Gharib says. “They even brought him a suitcase of money. He refused.” Now, their every move is filmed as cameras have been set up on the bars of the fence. Along with loss of privacy, the panopticon internalized omniscience prevents the Gharib family from taking radical steps to protect their rights. In Israeli military language this is called an “indicative fence” which is also equipped with sensors.  When the fence was built, the family had to negotiate by phone with the police at the nearby Atarot industrial zone every time they wanted to go out and or they had to get the Red Cross to help out. “Sometimes we waited for several hours for them to come and open it” Gharib said.

Constant surveillance in real life as well as digital space is definitely a critical human rights violation. While the case of Palestinians is unique given the Israeli military occupation, the fight for their rights is global. World leaders, governments, civil societies, social media giants and all internet users have an essential role in the battle for a surveillance and censorship free state.

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