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Jordan Peterson says he has no intention of giving up his fight with Ontario's psychologist regulatory body, accusing the college of attempting to stymie his speech and discipline him for his political opinions.
The College of Psychologists of Ontario has ordered Peterson — who has gained international fame for his bestselling self-help books and lectures — to undergo a media training program, saying some of his tweets may be "degrading" the profession and even raise questions about his abilities as a psychologist.
Peterson, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Toronto, has sparked controversy over his views on women, masculinity and gender identity, namely refusing to use people's preferred pronouns.
Peterson has refused the regulatory body's demand, arguing that the tweets cited by the college have nothing to do with the profession of psychology.
The case has also raised broader issues about freedom of expression and whether the college is overstepping its authority by penalizing the controversial psychologist for his opinions.
"I can either stop or give up or accede to the demands or continue the fight. And I'm not stopping," Peterson said in a phone interview with CBC News.
Peterson's battle with the college has won him allies among freedom of expression advocates, and drawn support from public figures like Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre and Tesla and Twitter boss Elon Musk.
James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University, said while he opposes many of Peterson's views, he's "deeply troubled" by the actions of the college.
"There's no reason whatsoever for the College of Psychologists to try to stop him from expressing those views."
"It's really worrisome … in a democratic society when a professional body feels it has a right to censor political speech of all of the members over whom it has regulatory authority."
Peterson said his battle with the college isn't just about him, but the idea that a regulatory body, backed by government power, can try and silence someone by "threatening their livelihood."
Tweets result in disciplinary action
Peterson said he no longer treats patients and his career is instead focused on social and political commentary.
Some of those views have resulted in disciplinary action against him by the regulatory college, which has ordered him to take a remedial media training course. Peterson has refused and has filed a judicial review and a "notice of constitutional question" regarding the constitutional validity of some bylaws of the college with the Ontario Superior Court.
He denies that he has brought disrepute to the profession, arguing the opposite is true.
"I think I've done demonstrably more than any psychologist has ever produced to increase the prestige and trust of the practice of psychology around the world," Peterson said.
In an email to CBC News, the college said it was not authorized to discuss Peterson's case due to confidentiality issues.
But the college panel that investigated Peterson has ordered him to complete a "specified continuing education or remedial program" to address issues regarding professionalism in public statements.
He must also pay for the program or face an allegation of professional misconduct, which could lead to the suspension of his licence to practise psychology.
Peterson gave up his clinical practice when he gained a global profile, but he said he doesn't want to give up his clinical 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."
Complaints to college
Last year, the college launched an investigation into Peterson after receiving public complaints about statements he had made on Twitter.
The complaints centred on tweets Peterson had made about public health restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. The panel followed up on the concerns, examined other tweets Peterson had made and noted particular concern with a series of statements that included:
Referring to Catherine McKenney, an Ottawa city councillor, who prefers to use they/them pronouns, as an "appalling self-righteous moralizing thing."
A tweet in which he used the dead name of actor Elliot Page, stating: "Remember when pride was a sin. And Ellen Page just had her breasts removed by a criminal physician."
A tweet in which he referred to Gerald Butts, the former principal secretary of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as a "prik" (sic).
His tweet in response to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover of a plus-sized model, in which he said: "Sorry. Not Beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that."
Peterson was temporarily suspended from Twitter for his tweet about Page. His account was reinstated by Elon Musk shortly after he purchased the social media platform in 2022.
After its review, the panel concluded that Peterson's conduct "poses moderate risks to the public," which includes the potential of "undermining public trust in the profession of psychology, and trust in the college's ability to regulate the profession in the public interest."
The panel said it recognizes Peterson has a constitutional right to freedom of expression, but as a member of the college it said Peterson is obligated to maintain its professional standards.
Peterson's comments, the panel also concluded, "raise questions about Dr. Peterson's ability to carry out his responsibilities as a psychologist."
The college said his comments about Page and McKenney, for example, reveal that Peterson "may be engaging in degrading, demeaning and unprofessional comments."
Peterson, however, said his tweets on subjects like gender dysphoria are based on his informed knowledge and are, in fact, "professional of the highest order."
Claim of political motivation
The complaints about him, he said, are being brought forward by the political left, and the college's motivations to go after him are clearly political and one-sided.
The college has failed to demonstrate any harms to the targets of his tweets, he said.
Asked whether the college has any role in policing speech, even speech that may, for example, clearly be racist, Peterson said, "If you grant a board the right to bully speech outside of the narrow purview of professional interactions with clients, then you open the door to ideological capture of the colleges.
"Which of those is a bigger danger? It is not obvious."
Peterson's court application for a judicial review argues that the college's disciplinary measures were "unreasonable and unduly infringes upon [his] free expression in contravention of his Charter rights." Peterson's public statements do not relate to the practice of psychology, were political in nature and "fall within the core of protected speech."
Another freedom of expression expert says the case raises questions about the reach of public regulatory bodies.
Richard Moon, a University of Windsor law professor, said the college's actions raise some "difficult questions" about the scope of authority of a professional body to oversee the speech of an individual member of the profession.
"When it's outside the scope of that immediate professional relationship, what kind of limits are acceptable or justified to ensure that somebody behaves in a professional way and doesn't bring the profession into disrepute in some way?
"And so there's a lot of room for debate and disagreement."