I’m sorry. I really am. But we have to talk about Jordan Peterson. The controversial author and former University of Toronto professor is back in the news, this time for disciplinary action meted out by the College of Psychologists of Ontario and his predictably furious response to it. The college, which governs his activities as a clinical psychologist, has responded to a growing number of complaints about his unprofessional conduct with a recommendation that he undergo social media training — one he’s turned into a (yet another) national controversy.

“For my crimes,” Peterson wrote in a column for the National Post, “I have been sentenced to a course of mandatory social-media communication training with the college’s so-called experts (although social media communication training is not a scientific and certainly not a clinical specialty of any standing).” Noted “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk (who has fired Twitter employees for disagreeing with him), Conrad Black and Conservative Party of Canada Leader Pierre Poilievre were among the high-profile allies that rallied to Peterson’s side.

Peterson hasn’t committed any crimes, of course, unless being excessively dramatic has been added to the Criminal Code of late. And his now-deleted post in which he accidentally released the full names and detailed personal information of the people who filed the complaints against him — in essence, doxxing them to his 3.6 million followers — shows that he might be in need of some social media training after all.

That’s not the only irony here. Despite his enthusiasm for preaching the gospel of personal responsibility to other men, Peterson takes a pass on it here. “The fact that it is happening (and that physicians and lawyers have become as terrified as psychologists now are of their own regulatory bodies) is something that has definitely happened on your watch,” he wrote in a performative letter to the prime minister, “as a consequence of your own conduct and the increasingly compulsion-based and ideologically pure policies that you have promoted and legislated.”

But once you set aside Peterson’s well-honed bluster and bravado, a few important facts emerge. First, as Peterson himself acknowledges, he hasn’t actually practised since 2017, when “my rising notoriety or fame made continuing as a private therapist practically and ethically impossible.” And second, while he desperately wants to make this about Justin Trudeau and his government, the College of Psychologists of Ontario is, as its name suggests, a provincial organization.

There is nothing unjust or illiberal about professional organizations enforcing codes of conduct for their members. The government is not restricting Peterson’s speech or telling him what he can and cannot say, and he’s welcome to tweet all the bile and invective he likes at whichever politicians he chooses. But his professional organization, which is responsible for protecting the best interests of its members and the public they serve, can also make its own choices.

Peterson is right about one thing, though: this isn’t really about him. It’s about our collective understanding of free speech rights and how they actually work in Canada, one that Conservatives seem determined to conflate and confuse with the American approach. There is, for example, no guarantee of free speech in Canada’s Constitution. Canada safeguards the “freedom of expression” but weighs it against the rights of other Canadians. There are no unimpeachable or absolute rights in Canada, as Section 1 of our Charter makes clear. Instead, those rights are “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

In his entirely predictable video about Peterson’s predicament (how could he not comment on something that combines “cancel culture” and “gatekeepers”?), Poilievre skips right past that small detail. Instead, after the usual hand-wringing about “cancel culture” and “the woke movement,” Poilievre points to Section 2(b), which guarantees “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

“2-B or not 2-B? That is the question,” Poilievre says. “And the answer is that, as Voltaire has been quoted as saying, ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it.’”

Peterson, of course, has not been denied that right. But neither has he been excused from the potential consequences associated with exercising it, especially when it comes to his own professional body. That’s how free speech actually works in Canada, much to the chagrin of those who would like their opinions to be sacrosanct.

What do Jordan Peterson, Pierre Poilievre and Elon Musk have in common? None of them understand how free speech actually works — especially in Canada, writes columnist Max Fawcett. #cdnpoli #FreeSpeech #Opinion

According to a recent national survey by the University of Saskatchewan’s Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research, most Canadians are fine with that. While 12.4 per cent of respondents said Canadians have “very little” or no free speech, 85.9 per cent said they felt we “fully” or “somewhat” have it. Nearly three-quarters (72.9 per cent) support stronger government action against hate speech, while 68 per cent want private companies (like social media platforms) to “crack down” on hate speech.

The federal government would do well to remember this as it contemplates potential legislation that would combat the sort of online hate speech that has spread and multiplied in recent years. That legislation was supposed to come within 100 days of its 2021 election victory, and it’s now more than a year overdue. Yes, they’ll get yelled at by Poilievre and any number of Postmedia pundits for bringing it forward, and there will be Petersonian accusations about the war on free speech. But Canadians, by and large, are on the government’s side here. If nothing else, it could serve as an important learning opportunity about how our Constitution, and our country, actually works.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
January 10, 2023, 10:30 am

This story has been updated to clarify that professional colleges also serve to protect the public.

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It should be noted that Musk, and really most Conservatives, are in any case lying about their supposed free speech absolutism. In Musk's case, he has, while talking quite the game against Twitter censorship with one side of his mouth, been kicking off Twitter not just various people who have personally made fun of him, but also various leftists that alt-right buddies have recommended that he censor. Meanwhile, American right wingers are doing their best to make it illegal to talk about gays (eg Ron DeSantis' "don't say gay" law), talk about the US history of racism (that would be "critical race theory", which is a no-no), talk critically about Israel and so on. You don't see them saying a lot about free speech in those connections.
And at the informal level, it's clear the average alt-right internetter, when they say "free speech", means only their freedom to say whatever they want, and everyone else not being allowed to say it's vicious nonsense. This is clear from the way they react to every speech act critical of them, as constituting an infringement on their freedom of speech. It does not seem to occur to them that other people's speech also counts as speech.

So from the alt-right base to the alt-right leadership to the alt-right-friendly politicians, their supposed free speech absolutism is consistently only about free speech for me, but never free speech for thee.

Max Fawcet writes …None of them understand how free speech actually works…

WOW I would like to see how Max Fawcett would show Elon Musk how free speech works.

You have the right to your opinion, but you lose credibility when you write on Elon Musk, obviously you know nothing about him, just R. Polson. You are just adding to the media noises about him.

One reason I subscribed to National Observer is to be informed without the FUDSTERS in the Hatestream media. It is so obvious in a petro-state like Canada who is peddling the fossil industry propaganda against anything that could jeopardize the lucrative status quo for the fat cats in the petro-industry.

Max Fawcett, not only believes the fabricated erroneous consensus around Elon Musk, but he adds to the confusion by adding FUD about Elon Musk, this genius that has the means of his ambition to eliminate our dependence on petrol and provide clean energy.

Naive me, I thought N.O. believed in the mission of Elon Musk: ‘to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future for humanity’ and would debunk the FUD coming from outside like the non-independent media, bashing Elon Musk and his enterprises.

But now Max Fawcett is peddling FUD from the interior like a ‘pute à clics’ comme on dit ici.
You are titillating the brigade of trolls antiEV and antiEM that belong to the culture of irresponsibility.

Which side are you on?

You obviously lack perspective, particularly on Elon Musk, if you can completely sidestep what he's done with/on Twitter, which, any way you slice it, looks a lot more like a guy who wants to rule the world, not save it, because Twitter is where the "thought leaders" congregate. He wants to "own" the influencers.
To be charitable, he might also be seen as the genius nerd who mainly wants to "fit in" (many of his antics ARE just that, juvenile and overtly geeky) but when he starts spouting the current "freedumb" mantra of the Republicans and invites all the bad boys back in in the name of "free speech," which is a nod to the American's reverence for their constitution, something they uniquely do in their usual "go big or go home" style; it also sanctions their other defining narrative of "god and guns." Trump is at the top of the bad boy list, and enabling him makes Musk no different than any of these right wing nutjobs who are obviously superheroes in their own minds, trying to burn it all down in the guise of remaking the world but sans democracy btw, because they are blithely disregarding the basic foundations of voting and elections. So they seriously lack context, historical and otherwise, bathed as they are in desire for fame, glory and power; they're all "on steroids." For them the only relevant context is American celebrity culture writ large and living large via social media. This is a new thing, and is objectively NOT good, so the enablers of it? Same thing.

@Tris Pargeter
You seem to think that is what free speech is all about. You peddle all the noise and the fabricated consensus as you do, and as long as it makes you feel good it is OK.
You are part of a group who will believe anything from the hate stream media that fabricated this consensus.
Even if it does not make sense, you have the right to give your opinion.
Elon Musk knows that there is always something to learn from opinions even if it is hogwash
and useless information, the least of which is to not waste your time with low levels of intelligence and concentrate on what matters for his mission of ‘accelerating the transition to a sustainable future for humanity.’

Free speech in Twitter v2 will mean that it comes from actual human beings capable of assuming full responsibilities for what they write. There are fewer false accounts and trolls in v2 because truth will be part of the exchange of information.

The truth will not be censored as it was. Intelligent people will still have to weed out the disinformation called free speech too often, but it will become easier. It is normally easy to sort the nonsense like the innuendos of the writer of this article.

You don’t invest $44Billions of your money without a plan for Twitter v2.

If you listened to Elon Musk himself, you would realize that he has an obsession for truth and he is brutally honest. He is the first one to admit it when he made a mistake.
He is not perfect, he is just less wrong than most people.
You cannot create a space enterprise like Space X and make a launching rocket that comes back to earth with astrology.

Do yourself a favour and listen to Elon Musk himself and make your own opinion.

You've been on here before Daniel and I called out your hero worship skewing your perception, as it does. You're obviously quite young which I won't hold against you, but do ME a favour and acknowledge that although pure genius is rare and can be transformative, it doesn't mean the guy ISN'T an a*hole, or actually understands much beyond his own particular areas of talent and interest. But you're playing fast and loose with the usual contrived narrative, like the "hate-stream media?" Trump much? Or Sarah Palin with her "lamestream media? I don't know what it is about the political right wing that they just can't resist a catchy turn of phrase no matter the substance. To me that spells illiteracy, of which there are many different kinds.
And you like the language of anarchy and libertarianism that just wants to tear it all down and start over, the whole, evolved, complex thing and just watch it burn, without much thought beyond that. Right? (Maybe cryptocurrency and a new, magical "strong" leader who can reinvent the wheel and not only imagine but create that "brave new world" out there? Keep an eye on what happens with Twitter then, keeping in mind that yours is clearly a besotted eye, not an objective eye.)
The most important thing in all this generational angst is democracy which is so underappreciated as to be a glaring gap, is simply lumped in with government as "the swamp" or some such trite crap that's devoid of ALL context ALL the time. However, developing a context happens to be an essential part of growing up. You need more education.

Having said that Tris what is your point?
You should wipe the foam off your mouth and reread what you are writing.
What you write tells me more about you than the person you want to insult.
If you are older than me, then it seems that life has not been kind to you, you have grown up full of hate. You are using literacy by the wrong end, you could use it to improve information and fight ignorance, instead of peddling misinformation taken out of context.

Obviously you did not listen to Elon Musk and know nothing about him.

It is a shame you are missing a lot of clever and humorous responses to the ones attacking him all the time.
I follow his achievements since 2012 when I stopped buying anything that function with petrol, as I realized after making an investment in fossil industry that it was the most corrupted industry in the world (OCDE) and got out of it.

I will help you in determining where I stand politically, I am not left nor right, just straight ahead and I can understand politicians leaning on the left of the repugnicans or the ones leaning on the right of the democrats.
Educated people animated with goodwill for whom Elon Musk is unknown will at least treat him as an acquired taste first, because it is easy to realize that you don’t get to achieve what he has done in his life and become the richest man in the world with goofy ideas that you think he is capable of.
You have to listen to him first.

My point is that you're not objective or reasonable if you don't see Musk as one of the right wing crazies even when he's espousing the exact same crap, starting with the juvenile notion that a lack of free speech is the problem. Pffffttttt.....to the simple solution AND the rogue rebellion mantra.
My other point is that being a rebel without a pause is common among young men, as is the heroic myth. Jerry Seinfeld said it best, that "all men are low-level superheroes in their own minds."
All this is probably better channelled into sports rather than politics because it affects too many people's lives.
And you're completely disingenuous when you say you're apolitical, as in not left or right, preferring to pretend you're way up there "beyond the fray," being somehow above everyone else being the whole point of course.
Musk's mistake is showing his political leanings, and showing how naive he is on that front. Success has clearly gone to his head.

If you are older than me as you suggested earlier, it means that you don’t have much left of a future, and the way you write suggests that you don’t really care for a better future for you or your loved ones or on a larger scale, humanity.

If I am wrong and you do care, I suggest you start listening to Elon Musk himself, because all his enterprises aim to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future for (you and your loved ones) humanity.

Here at Stanford University, is one of many talks he gave to many universities in the world. This shows that even in 2015 he was doing things for the right reasons, and please tell me what part of it you would not agree with;

Elon Musk: Elon Musk's Vision for the Future [Entire Talk]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVk1hb0ZOrE

Another one!
"Intergenerational Dialogue for Our Emerging Future" in 2022
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGhW6ANHxAg&t=299s

That's all cute and all except for the one brute fact: Despite his protestations about ending censorship, he is censoring people.

The people he has been censoring have been coming forward and complaining about it. They are leftists. Certain hard right types have been, apparently at his request, sending him advice about who to dump from Twitter, and he has been thanking them on Twitter for the advice, and those people have been getting dumped. You don't get to wrap yourself in the mantle of "I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it" when you are in fact stopping them from saying it. Musk is NOT a free speech absolutist. Period, full stop, the end. So, when he claims to be one, he is lying--perhaps to himself as well as us, I dunno, but he is lying.

Peterson is a complicated guy. So much of his work is really useful and fascinating but he seems to go off the rails pretty easily. When it comes to politics I've noticed that he is a knee-jerk fundamentalist conservative. In his mind, the conservative cause is unquestionably right and anyone who espouses it must automatically be speaking great truth. I find it really odd that someone with that brain power can be so, well, stupid when it comes to politics. If you listen to his discussions with scientists they are usually pretty serious and fascinating but when he interviews a conservative political figure it's nothing but hagiography. (I haven't had the courage to tackle his recent interview with Newt Gingrich!) I don't know if he's even aware that he does this.

The problem with him and his interactions with the rest of the world is that he says things that may have a grain of truth in them, even important truth, but he says them in such an inflammatory way that people get upset and react badly. Often they misunderstand what he said but he doesn't correct them - he just loses his temper back at them. I suspect the College that's coming after him will bungle this because dealing with him properly requires real nuance and most people are completely useless at that.

There's nothing to bungle. College has a duty to investigate each complaint individually. If their investigation committee finds no grounds for possible discipline the specific complaint results in no further action.

If there are possible grounds, the investigation committee may offer remediation aka alternative dispute resolution. That's where CPO are at with JP. If the member declines, or engages in further misconduct, then the member will be recommended for discipline hearing.

The discipline committee/tribunal will hear the case. The investigation committee prosecutes the case and the member defends against the complaint(s).

The College's Executive Council, Investigation Committee, & Discipline Committees act independently of each other to ensure their is no "reasonable apprehension of bias."

This is how professional regulators operate. It is a quasi-judicial process subject to the principles of natural justice. The process is defined in law and there is little choice in how this proceeds. It's really up to the member how this plays out. Seems to me JP chose the hearing route, and he risks being deemed "ungovernable" given his opposition to the process. Tonnes of case law on this.

I appreciate Max's apology here because Peterson is just another alt-right religious nutbar despite his extensive education, which has made him the token intellectual among his anti-intellectual audience, but because his focus has been human psychology, he really should know better. But he's found a way to mine all that juxtaposition for its novelty, the principle calling card of both social media and the psycho right wing.
He hasn't practised as a clinical psychologist since 2017 because, in his words, his "growing fame" made it impossible. Hmm. He strikes me as one of those kind of softer, cerebral nerd types who always longed to be one of the guys, read macho shitheads, and has found an entry point. He also seems to fancy himself as a modern day religious prophet trying to restore rightful male supremacy, but if you google him, him and his wife could be Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. And even though they're generally regarded as crazy people, their crazy message somehow has survived intact. Why is that? People are so desperate it's depressing, especially men of late. This guy is walking proof of that, along with all his also famous partners in crime, a juvenile posse of the provocative, prodding for attention that's never enough. I wish they'd all just go BACK and BACK into the bush and bond there, or find an island to re-enact "Lord of the Flies," to make themselves great again, whatever, and leave the rest of us the hell alone so we can continue moving forward toward the more equitable world that awaits.

What is free speech? The right to participate as a Canadian citizen.
Am always discouraged how so many Western Canadians seem to believe the USA constitution applies in Canada. And freedom! How many readers have felt unfree, or have had their personal freedom limited. Most of us just live our lives, take care of family and friends, work and play where and when we want. Never in my 7 decades have I felt unfree in Canada.

Nor me, but it's clearly a siren song for young guys in particular. The irony is that they demonstrably have far too MUCH freedom, are literally a pack of spoiled brats. They should all be airdropped into Russia, or Iran, or Somalia or......the list goes on an on....I do wonder about our education system at this point.