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Regulatory group for psychologists ordered Jordan Peterson to undergo 're-education' after he expressed his opinions online. He's taken it to court, and the result might prove seismic.
Photo by Hollie Adams / Newspix / Getty Images

Regulatory group for psychologists ordered Jordan Peterson to undergo 're-education' after he expressed his opinions online. He's taken it to court, and the result might prove seismic.

Beyond his work as a cultural commentator, a professor, and a bestselling author, Dr. Jordan Peterson has also made a name for himself as an accomplished clinical psychologist.

Following complaints — not by clients but by strangers — about some of Peterson's publicly-stated views unrelated to the practice of psychology, the Canadian governing body for psychologists in his home province of Ontario ordered him late last year to submit to mandatory media training at his own expense.

Rather than submit to the procrustean re-education scheme, Peterson, who no longer has a clinical practice but intends to maintain his clinical license, elected to take the College of Psychologists of Ontario to court, stressing that its order runs afoul of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The court now appears set to reveal its decision in the case, which could prove greatly consequential.

According to Jonah Arnold of the Association of Aggrieved Regulated Professionals of Ontario, a non-profit advocacy group that represents health care workers and other professionals who have experienced mistreatment by their regulators, "the outcome of this case may affect the fundamental rights of about 400,000 professionals from all 29 regulated health professions in Ontario. It could even affect other professionals including teachers, accountants, and lawyers."

What's the background?

Peterson was previously in good standing with the CPO and had no public record of any complaints, reported the Toronto Star.

Then he expressed personal opinions online that evidently did not resonate with everybody.

Peterson retweeted a comment made by the leader of Canada's official opposition party, Pierre Poilievre, concerning the unnecessary severity of COVID lockdowns.

He criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trudeau's former chief of staff, Gerald Butts, who resigned amidst the liberal leader's damning SNC Lavalin scandal.

Peterson also took Ottawa city councilor Catherine McKenney to task over her use of "they/them" pronouns and suggested the doctor who removed actress Elliot Page's breasts was a "criminal physician."

It appears these and other remarks were too much for some people to handle.

Individuals whom Peterson indicated were neither clients nor familiar with his clients complained to the CPO.

According to Canadian state media, the CPO then launched an investigation into Peterson.

The CPO's inquiries, complaints, and reports committee determined in November 2022 that the doctor's comments were "degrading, demeaning and unprofessional," adding that his conduct "poses moderate risks to the public," and runs the risk of "undermining public trust in the profession of psychology, and trust in the college's ability to regulate the profession in the public interest."

Peterson claimed that he was further accused of tweeting his opinion "'disrespectfully,' ... in a 'horrific' manner that spread 'misinformation'; that was 'threatening' and 'harassing'; that was 'embarrassing to the profession,'" adding that he was also accused of being "sexist, transphobic, incapable of the requisite body positivity in relationship to morbid obesity and, unforgivably of all, a climate change denialist."

Peterson told Canadian state media that the committee had proven itself unable to demonstrate any harms to the targets of his tweets.

Nevertheless, the committee concluded that he must complete a "specified continuing education or remedial program" at his own expense or face an allegation of professional misconduct, which would result in the termination of his license to practice psychology.

Peterson takes the college to court

Peterson wrote in a Jan. 4 National Post article that in agreeing to the CPO committee's re-education order, he would have to admit that he has been unprofessional in his conduct and to have that noted publicly.

"I’m not complying. I’m not submitting to re-education. I am not admitting that my viewpoints — many of which have, by the way, been entirely justified by the facts that have emerged since the complaints were levied — were either wrong or unprofessional," he stated.

"I have done nothing to compromise those in my care; quite the contrary — I have served all my clients and the millions of people I am communicating with to the best of my ability and in good faith, and that’s that."

Peterson told the Toronto Sun that he determined "the best way to challenge [the college's order] would be in the courts on constitutional grounds. ... I don't trust the process at the College and no one should."

The psychologist filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for a review of the ruling by the committee.

His notice of application for judicial review stated that the committee's decision as well as certain bylaws and policies of the CPO infringed upon his freedom of expression rights. It also highlighted how his impugned statements "do not relate to the 'practice of psychology.'"

A panel of three Superior Court judges is expected to reveal its decision in the case any day now.

Differences of opinion

There were multiple intervenors in the case that provided expert testimony germane to the Divisional Court's forthcoming decision.

Among them: the antipathetic Egale Canada and JusticeTrans; the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario; the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; the Canadian Constitution Foundation; and the AARPO.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation argued that professional regulators ought not regulate off-duty conduct unless they are able to "establish a clear nexus between that specific conduct and the legitimate interest of the profession. And where off-duty conduct engages a Charter right, like freedom of expression, regulators have a heightened duty to ensure they have given full effect to the Charter protection."

Christine Van Geyn, litigation director at the foundation, said in a statement, "People in regulated professions have private lives outside of their professional roles. Any intrusion on the right of an individual to participate in public discourse, including through controversial statements in social media, must be rigorously examined to ensure that a regulator is not over-stepping its mandate."

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association reportedly noted that the CPO's oversight does not extend to "expressive activity that is outside the scope of professional practice."

Carolyn Silver and Amy Block, lawyers for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, alternatively suggested that health regulators, such as the college, have an "overarching duty" to act in the public interest, and that "includes setting standards for civility in communications in public forums, and ensuring communications are free from discrimination and consistent with core values of the profession."

The AARPO highlighted the danger of "mission creep," noting a decision in the CPO's favor here would "improperly and unlawfully expand the mandate of professional regulators to include regulating 'unacceptable views' on matters unrelated to the practice of the professional outside of its area of practice."

As stated in the factum the advocacy group introduced in court and subsequently provided to TheBlaze, professional regulators previously "did not consider their members’ opinions unrelated to the profession disgraceful, dishonourable, unprofessional or conduct unbecoming, unless such opinions were unlawful, expressed hate, incited violence, or were so abhorrent as to undermine public confidence in the profession."

Past examples of such patently condemnable conduct were: the perpetration of fraud in the form of over-billing; the seduction of minors; secret surveillance of employees without their consent; and deceit about credentials when obtaining a license.

The AARPO noted that "Dr. Jordan Peterson's impugned conduct does not fall within the scope of traditional conduct regulated by professional regulators. ... Dr. Peterson's online posts and commentary unrelated to the practice of the profession are not hateful, incite no violence, and are not unlawful."

Significance and possible fallout

According to Jonah Arnold, a partner at Weinman, Arnold LLP and the leading force behind the AARPO, a decision against Peterson will most certainly ramify for professionals both in the field of psychology and beyond.

"If the Court upholds the College Committee’s reasons and does not provide a detailed decision including a full analysis of why it made such a decision, we all lose," Arnold told TheBlaze. "If the Court upholds the College Committee’s decision to order Dr. Peterson to undergo re-education, it will embolden regulators in Ontario and probably across Canada, to expand and overstep their regulatory authority and intrude into their registrant’s personal lives."

The chilling effect would be such that those entering professions in the province "will have no choice but to stay silent, contrary to their Charter rights," said Arnold.

Extra to damning professionals to a muted existence, a precedent here allowing for the policing of a health care professionals' opinions unrelated to their practice might also preclude people from entering the field. This would be especially troubling, suggested Arnold, in light of the health care worker shortage already affecting Ontario and the rest of the country.

The Star noted that John McIntyre, the lawyer representing Egale Canada and JusticeTrans, suggested a health professional's right to freedom of expression "must be weighed against countervailing interests, including the Charter rights of vulnerable."

When asked about this sentiment, Arnold told TheBlaze, "Mr. McIntyre competently argued his client’s position. However, we do not agree with the position. Such a position would require Committees to decide whose fundamental rights are more important. That is flawed. One cannot make a sweeping decision that one group’s rights are more important than another’s rights. Everyone’s fundamental rights must be respected and protected."

Arnold added, "Egale Canada and JusticeTrans had no evidence to support the position that Dr. Peterson’s statements somehow violate the Charter rights of vulnerable and marginalized stakeholders. It is not enough that a belief or expression is controversial or unpleasant – such beliefs and expressions are the very reason section 2 of the Charter exists."

JusticeTrans, the CPO, and Peterson's legal representative did not respond to TheBlaze's request for comment. Dr. Peterson was unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News. He lives in a small town with his wife and son, moonlighting as an author of science fiction.
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