Following a series of controversial statements, U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson took part in a debate on Saturday, November 19 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss Bill C-16 and gender provisions provided under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The debate was live-streamed on a website provided by U of T, and was shared on Peterson’s YouTube channel. The website required a Silverlight software, which stirred some tweets addressing U of T with, “Here’s a way to limit your audience. Who came up with these broadcasting ‘solutions?’”, “Frustrated with technical issues with the #C16forum debate,” “Cannot open media file,” and several others.
The website worked shortly after the debate resumed.
Participants facing Peterson in the debate were Brenda Cossman, U of T law professor and director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, and Mary Bryson, education professor and senior associate dean at the University of British Columbia.
Mayo Moran, Trinity College provost and law professor moderated the debate.
Peterson elucidated that the recent outpour of public attention on the issue of gender pronouns was not just a by-product of Bill C-16, but also a more proliferative problem.
“There have been about 140 print articles, and millions of people have been tuning in online. Something’s up. it’s not just a discussion of Bill C-16,” said Peterson.
“It is implicit that Bill C-16 […] is an assault on objectivity itself.”
“If universities think that sciences will be immune from the ideological doctrines embedded in these pieces of legislation, they better think again.”
Peterson also spoke about the importance of dialogue between conflicting camps, citing his 40 years of experience studying authoritarianism.
He argued that freedom of speech is “not just another value,” but an underpinning of Western civilization.
Peterson also addressed the Human Rights Tribunals as a “kangaroo court” that, in his opinion, posed a threat and should be abolished.
He also referred to Ursula from The Little Mermaid—who wanted to take the movie’s protagonist, Ariel’s, voice—as an example of the people who talk about compassion and do not “in the least have your best interests in mind.”
Following Peterson’s 10-minute statement, Cossman took to her podium to address the audience.
“I’m here today, as a lawyer, as a law professor, as a civil libertarian, and as an expert in equality rights and freedom of expression, to correct [some of the] misunderstandings,” she said.
Cossman explained that several provinces and territories, including Ontario, have been actively instituting the protections guaranteed by Bill C-16 since 2002, and that such legislation presented at a federal level is “nothing unprecedented.”
Rhetorically asking whether the provisions granted under Bill C-16 could criminalize the use or misuse of gender pronouns, Cossman responded: “Not even close.”
Cossman also argued that Bill C-16 does not introduce any new offences under the criminal code, but provides provisions for existing legislation, particularly on “advocating of genocide,” the “public incitement of hate,” and the “willful promotion of hatred.”
She also referred to section 7-18 of the Canadian Criminal Code, explaining that if an existing offence was motivated by threat, it could result in a greater sentence.
“This has no impact on pronouns, unless an accused was misusing pronouns while assaulting someone. In other words, there is nothing in Bill C-16 that comes close to criminalizing the use of pronouns.”
Cossman also addressed the issue of mutual and embodying respect towards others.
“I worry that we’ve moved into a place now, not a post-truth politics, but a post-empathy politics, where we no longer seem to care about people,” she said. “This, at the end of the day, is about people. It’s about trans and non-binary people. How bloody hard is it to simply treat these people with respect and dignity?”
Bryson assumed the podium as the third speaker of the event, and drew on a number of statements made by Peterson in his online lectures, videos, and interviews.
“This is hardly the stuff of academic scholarship,” said Bryson. “I am a member of the Global Education Initiative of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and I can tell you, without a shred of doubt, that there is no link between the public claims of professor Jordan Peterson […] and a body of easily-accessible academic scholarship.”
Bryson also argued the credibility of Peterson’s statements, and claimed that he has used “rhetoric more common to Breitbart News,” which is considered a right-wing online media, and that his arguments are “based on political grounds, rather than scholarly evidence.”
Peterson extended an invitation to Bryson to debate the gender identity scientifically.
The floor was open for the last 30 minutes of the debate for questions through email from online viewers, or by pencil and paper from the live audience. Moran recited the questions to the panelists.
One of the questions directed to Peterson asked if he holds “the same stance regarding other discriminatory language in the Human Rights Code, such as being able to use racist terms with regards to students.”
“I have in fact been denounced today, and what I am saying has in fact been described as hate propaganda,” said Peterson. “So one thing I’d like to suggest to you, every single person in the audience: You’re next. So keep it in mind.”
He then answered saying that he doesn’t think the issues that the question posed are the same, adding that the use of gender pronouns does not indicate “a mark of respect.”
“That assumes that [if] I’m using he or she, then I’m actually indicating my respect for them, but that’s not true,” he said.
Other questions asked about the role of clinical psychology in helping individuals with their identity, to which Peterson responded saying that he has helped people make a “genuine identity” and plans for their future.
Peterson also pointed out that the Canadian government might “come after his clinical license” for his claims.
Moran gave closing remarks by addressing the National Day of Transgender Remembrance on November 20.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect going into today’s debate,” she also said. “I can only hope that some illumination has happened today.”
Hashtag C16Forum was trending number two in Canada on Twitter during the debate.