Psychologist Jordan Peterson says he will fight disciplinary action by his profession’s provincial regulatory body to ensure freedom of speech for all professionals in Canada.
“If with all my resources and status I can neither risk nor afford to speak, then all the professionals in Canada are in a worse position,” he said on social media on Sept. 3. “They will lie to you or remain silent and your right to free speech is gone too.”
Mr. Peterson, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto in psychology, first came under scrutiny by the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) in 2022 after the CPO received complaints about a number of his social media posts.
The college alleged that some of his statements directed at a plus-sized model, transgender actor Elliot Page, and several politicians may be “degrading” to the profession and could amount to professional misconduct.
The CPO’s complaints committee concluded as such in November 2022 and ordered Mr. Peterson to undergo a social media training program on professionalism in making public statements. Not complying could mean losing his licence and ability to practise his profession in Ontario.
Mr. Peterson didn’t agree with CPO’s decision, saying the CPO wants him to attend a “re-education camp.”
He subsequently filed for a judicial review in June this year, seeking review of the CPO’s order, but had his application dismissed by the court in August.
Mr. Peterson has announced he will be appealing the court ruling that states he must comply with the CPO order to take social media coaching.
The Aug. 23 court ruling said the CPO’s order requiring Mr. Peterson to comply with coaching directives falls within the college’s mandate to regulate the profession in the public interest. The judge ruled that, as a member of a “regulated profession,” Mr. Peterson bears responsibility “for the risk of harm that flows from him speaking in that trusted capacity.”
In response, lawyers representing the psychologist said on Aug. 23 that “Dr. Peterson is deeply concerned about the chilling effect that the College’s actions will have on professionals across Canada expressing controversial or unpopular views,” adding, “Regulated professionals do not check their right to free expression at the door.”
Mr. Peterson, author of the best-selling non-fiction “Twelve Rules for Life,” tagged the CPO in his Sept. 3 post, sharing a National Post column by businessman and former newspaper magnate Conrad Black.
In his article, Mr. Black said Canadians must stand behind Mr. Peterson’s fight for free expression, because “if professionals can be publicly humiliated and threatened with expulsion over political opinions, everyone in this country is at risk” and it is a “direct threat to the civil liberties of every Canadian.”
As Mr. Black explains, the psychologist is at risk of losing his licence to practise as a clinical psychologist in the province where he resides because of the complaints of six people about the “harm” done by his online opinions.
“The majority of those who claimed to be ‘harmed’ were not Canadian residents and none of them had professionally consulted Dr. Peterson or knew anyone who had. The complaints were vicarious,” Mr. Black wrote.
He said it is the Ontario college going after Dr. Peterson today, but tomorrow it could be the bar for lawyers or regulators of chartered accountants, architects, engineers, physicians and surgeons, or ordained clergymen in any province.
“If the learned professionals can be publicly humiliated and threatened with expulsion from their practice because a few people, whether resident in Canada or not, profess to be offended by what is legally fair comment, no one in this country should imagine that the liberty of expression and conduct guaranteed to them by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has any validity whatever,” wrote Mr. Black.
The CPO has not returned requests for comment.