An Ontario court ruled against psychologist and media personality Jordan Peterson Wednesday, and upheld a regulatory body's order that he take social media training in the wake of complaints about his controversial online posts and statements.
Last November, Peterson, a professor emeritus with the University of Toronto psychology department who is also an author and media commentator, was ordered by the College of Psychologists of Ontario to undergo a coaching program on professionalism in public statements.
That followed numerous complaints to the governing body of Ontario psychologists, of which Peterson is a member, regarding his online commentary directed at politicians, a plus-sized model, and transgender actor Elliot Page, among other issues. You can read more about those social media posts here.
The college's complaints committee concluded his controversial public statements could amount to professional misconduct and ordered Peterson to pay for a media coaching program — noting failure to comply could mean the loss of his licence to practice psychology in the province.
Peterson filed for a judicial review, arguing his political commentary is not under the college's purview.
Three Ontario Divisional Court judges unanimously dismissed Peterson's application, ruling that the college's decision falls within its mandate to regulate the profession in the public interest and does not affect his freedom of expression.
"The order is not disciplinary and does not prevent Dr. Peterson from expressing himself on controversial topics; it has a minimal impact on his right to freedom of expression," the decision written by Justice Paul Schabas reads, in part. You can read the entire decision at the bottom of this story.
Peterson had said his statements were not made in his capacity as a clinical psychologist, but instead were "off-duty opinions" — an argument the court rejected.
"Dr. Peterson sees himself functioning as a clinical psychologist 'in the broad public space' where he claims to be helping 'millions of people,"' Schabas wrote.
"Peterson cannot have it both ways: he cannot speak as a member of a regulated profession without taking responsibility for the risk of harm that flows from him speaking in that trusted capacity."
Peterson says he has 'zero regrets'
In an interview with CBC News, Peterson said he will take the training and broadcast it.
"I'll comply with their regulations, but I'm not going to do it in secret... And the reason I'm not going to do it in secret is because I don't believe I've done anything wrong," he said.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, before the decision was released, Peterson said he wished the college luck in its "continued prosecution."
He wrote: "They're going to need it.".
Peterson told CBC News in January that he had no intention of giving up his fight with the regulatory body, accusing the college of attempting to stymie his speech and discipline him for his political opinions.
He also Wednesday he stands by what he has said and has "zero regrets" for his social media posts.
Peterson said he believes the posts are a question of free speech, which he called "sacred," adding he says what he believes to be true.
"The fundamental issue is one of free discourse," he said. "I like to think and we think by talking in large part. And so I'm not willing to suspend my tongue as a consequence of government decree."
Jordan Peterson says: 'I'll comply with their regulations, but I'm not going to do it in secret. I'm not going to do any of this in secret, and the reason I'm not going to do it in secret is because I don't believe I've done anything wrong.' (@jordanbpeterson/Twitter)
Controversial figure wants to retain licence
He added he no longer treats patients and his career is instead focused on social and political commentary. Similarly, he doesn't regularly lecture at U of T.
However, Peterson has said he wants to retain his licence.
"I deserve it. I earned it. I haven't done anything to justify suspending it, and I don't want to give the hyenas their bones," he said earlier this year.
The college, in a statement released after the decision was issued, said it is committed to carrying out its mandate of protecting the public interest by regulating the practice of psychology.
"The College will review today's decision and undertake next steps in accordance with our mandate and any appropriate legal processes," the statement reads.
Peterson, seen here speaking to a crowd in Sherwood Park, Alta., in 2018, has said he wants to retain his licence, though his career is now largely focused on social and political commentary. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
Peterson's case was watched closely by free speech advocates and regulators in other professions. It featured interveners including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, and LGBTQ+ advocacy group Egale Canada, which said in a statement from Executive Director Helen Kennedy that communities her organization represents often face discrimination and barriers when accessing healthcare.
"Today's ruling that as a professional regulatory body, the College of Psychologists of Ontario has the mandate to regulate degrading and demeaning speech by its members, is a step in the right direction in ensuring that 2SLGBTQI individuals can access healthcare safely and without discrimination," Kennedy wrote.
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) Executive Director Noa Mendelsoh Aviv, meanwhile, said in a statement that the CCLA doesn't endorse Peterson's views, but still argued in court that professional regulatory bodies shouldn't be policing speech that is not directly connected to professional practice.
"Freedom of expression is a right that no individual gives up just because they join a regulated profession," she said.
Carolyn Silver, Chief Legal Officer for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario who appeared at the hearing on behalf of the college in its intervention, said the college welcomes the decision.
"The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is pleased with the court's decision confirming that members of regulated health professions are expected to maintain high standards of conduct, which at times may result in some curtailment of their freedom of expression," she said in a statement on Wednesday.
"In our view, the decision again confirms that when a regulated health professional breaches expectations set by its regulator, including with respect to public speech, the regulator is best situated to assess and address the potential harm to public trust and confidence in the profession."
Peterson rose to prominence through his polarizing YouTube videos critiquing liberal culture and his successful self-help book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
Here's the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision: