Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre hosts many events, touting itself as a venue where “The greatest games, the biggest shows, the best times in the nation’s capital happen.” Most notably, the arena serves as home to the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators, with both the team and arena owned by the estate of the late Eugene Melnyk and run by branches of Capital Sports.
While the Senators are the venue’s top billing, a more controversial tenant is set to play to the crowd at the Canadian Tire Centre this month. That person is Jordan B. Peterson.
Peterson’s appearance at an arena not only housing an NHL franchise, but operated by a group with representation at the NHL’s board of governors table, has raised concerns among those working to build diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in hockey.
As the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign states, the NHL believes “all hockey programs — from professionals to youth organizations — should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, colour, religion, national origin, gender identity or expression, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”
When Peterson enters the Canadian Tire Centre on Jan. 30, that commitment to a safe and inclusive environment for all, according to critics, will be challenged.
Peterson, a former professor, and now author, was in vocal opposition to Bill C-16, which added gender identity and expression as protected grounds in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Peterson labelled gender-affirming care “a viciously harmful fad” and “Nazi medical experiment-level wrong,” which the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) called “hate-driven anti-trans rhetoric.” GLAAD also stated the videos Peterson creates “perpetuate hateful and false narratives at the expense of trans people everywhere.” Peterson’s anti-trans actions also saw him banned from Twitter last summer “after violating Twitter’s hateful conduct policy by posting tweets targeting transgender actor Elliot Page.”
In November, Peterson directly confronted the NHL on Twitter after he was reinstated by the social media platform’s new owner, Elon Musk. After the NHL posted a tweet celebrating Team Trans, an all transgender hockey organization, the post received hundreds of anti-trans replies. The NHL defended the transgender community, tweeting “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Nonbinary identity is real.” Peterson quoted the NHL’s statement, saying “Not hockey too…. Canada is doomed.” Peterson also misgendered participants of the Team Trans event and spread disinformation, which Team Trans later clarified directly to Yahoo.
Peterson’s direct opposition to the NHL's inclusion efforts related to gender and sexuality, according to experts, is a contradiction to hockey’s ongoing efforts to combat homophobia and transphobia in sport and society.
“I understand there is currently a political and cultural appetite for his philosophies, including in the hockey community,” said Dr. Cheryl MacDonald, a leading hockey scholar focusing on social issues in sport, about Peterson’s event at Canadian Tire Centre. “At the same time, if NHL teams are truly committed to sustainable diversity, equity and inclusion work, it seems to me that to give a platform to someone with such polarizing views of human rights and responsibilities as Jordan Peterson could be understood by many marginalized hockey fans as being in direct opposition to those DEI goals.”
Peterson himself has stated his distaste for terms like “equity” and “diversity.” In a blog post titled "Equity: When the Left Goes Too Far," Peterson claimed that of diversity, equity and inclusion, “equity is the most egregious, self-righteous, historically-ignorant and dangerous.” In a separate post, Peterson wrote that diversity "masquerades as something positive,” and what the term truly means is “let’s aim for fewer white men in positions of authority.”
Following the death of Melynk in May 2022, The Athletic published an expose on the late Senators owner, including his opposition to LGBTQ+ inclusive marketing efforts by the franchise.
“Melnyk was incensed at a marketing campaign with the slogan 'Love is Love' that included still images of same-sex couples embracing and kissing that had been used to promote an upcoming Senators game for the NHL’s 'Hockey is for Everyone' night,” The Athletic wrote. “The campaign was designed to celebrate diversity and inclusion and to connect with members of the Ottawa community previously left out of the organization’s outreach efforts.”
While most NHL teams host Pride Nights in celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, the Senators have remained one of the few organizations to not hold a specific special event for Pride.
According to The Athletic, Melynk, who purchased the Senators in 2003, was “screaming” at employees inquiring who was “responsible for this fucking gay campaign?” and making statements such as “We are the laughing stock of the NHL right now!” and “They think we are so desperate that we have to advertise to gays now.”
The Senators, however, have made strides over the last year, participating in Ottawa Pride events and engaging with organizations like Ottawa Pride Hockey, an LGBTQ+ hockey club that is worried about the harm Peterson’s appearance will have to LGBTQ+ people in Ottawa.
“Ottawa Pride Hockey has worked to create a safer space for queer, trans and nonbinary hockey players of all skill levels to play the sport we love,” the organization said in a statement to Yahoo. “As a society, we are at a critical point in history in examining some of the more toxic elements of hockey culture, and have the exciting opportunity to leave things better than we found them, so more people can enjoy the sport we base our lives around. That's why it is a step in the wrong direction for the Canadian Tire Centre to host Jordan Peterson, a known anti-feminist and transphobe, in the same building where the Ottawa Senators are working on diversifying hockey and making it more accessible for everyone.
“Giving this harmful individual a platform in this specific venue is harmful and alienating, particularly for hockey fans who are queer, trans and nonbinary,” their statement continued. “We have been really pleased to see the Ottawa Senators building up their connection with groups like ours in the community, and feel these efforts are genuine. Hosting Jordan Peterson at the Canadian Tire Centre feels like a step in the wrong direction, once again showing that hockey spaces will tolerate hatred and provide a platform to those who, at best, believe that people like us are mentally ill and, at worst, want us dead. We hope to see the event cancelled, to show that hate has no place in hockey, or in our communities.”
These concerns were echoed by several Ottawa-based organizations, including the Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women, Horizon Ottawa, Kind Space, Wisdom 2 Action, and the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, who penned a joint letter provided to Yahoo, opposing Peterson’s event in hopes organizers and the City will act to protect vulnerable groups in Ottawa.
“We are writing today to express our deep shock and disappointment with the choice of the Canadian Tire Centre to host Jordan Peterson for a forthcoming show,” the letter reads.
The letter also references Peterson’s support for last year’s Freedom Convoy, which caused “equity-deserving communities” within the region to experience “the traumatic events of the occupation of our city by the far-right,” including “hundreds of incidents of harassment.”
According to another local organization, Interval House of Ottawa, which “supports survivors of violence in the Ottawa community,” it is feared that providing Peterson a platform to speak at the Canadian Tire Centre will directly contribute to an increase in gender-based violence in the community.
“With the increase in anti-trans hate and femicide in our community, it is imperative that the issue of gender-based violence be addressed with urgency,” Interval House of Ottawa’s executive director, Keri Lewis told Yahoo.
“Ending gender-based violence is the responsibility of our entire community, including individual members, all levels of government, community-based organizations, and businesses. Providing a platform for someone like Peterson – someone that promotes racism, transphobia and misogyny – only contributes to the conditions that lead to gender-based violence.
“IHO stands against the message of hate brought by Peterson and we are here to support those who will surely be impacted by an uptick in harassment and violence encouraged by his visit,” said Lewis.
Peterson’s beliefs related to misogyny and violence have sparked criticism in the past. In 2018, Peterson defended a murderous spree in Toronto, which left 10 dead, saying the perpetrator was angry at God because "women were rejecting him,” and the solution was “enforced monogamy.” Peterson has claimed “the masculine spirit is under assault” and that feminists have an “unconscious wish for brutal male domination.” He’s also stated women would be happier if they “allow themselves to be transformed by nature into mothers.” In addition, Peterson has called women who don’t want to be sexually harassed in the workplace “hypocritical” if they wear makeup.
Over the last year, hockey has faced a reckoning with sexual violence, rape culture, and consent, specifically related to the ongoing Hockey Canada scandal. In other circumstances, including a 2018 investigation at Boston University, a “culture of sexual entitlement” among hockey players was admonished, echoing phrases used to describe Peterson’s own ideology. In a 2022 article in The Conversation, scholars discussed the issues of “male privilege and entitlement” related to sexual assault in hockey.
Peterson, who is currently facing disciplinary actions from Ontario’s College of Psychologists, has defended his messages as an expression of “freedom of speech.” As scholars argue, including University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon, whose research focus is on freedom of expression, individuals participating in hate speech often shift the discussion to the defence of free speech to make bigotry acceptable.
“By shifting the focus to the defence of free speech, the speaker, or their sponsor, can defend the speech without directly defending the merits of what is said,” Moon wrote in an article for The Conversation, directly referencing Peterson. “Indeed, for some time now, hate-mongers have found it strategically useful to present themselves as defenders of free speech.”
At times Peterson’s own words have contradicted his defence of free speech, and when the Canadian Tire Centre announced Peterson’s Ottawa event on social media, it inevitably closed replies, limiting feedback and criticism from those opposing Peterson’s event. The NHL also closed comments on its post supporting Team Trans after a plethora of anti-trans replies, many considered hate speech under Twitter’s terms, were posted.
While events generate revenue for facilities like the Canadian Tire Centre and their parent companies, there is precedent for events involving individuals and organizations who promote hate, or risk harm to communities, to be called off or protested.
As the letter penned by the joint coalition of concerned Ottawa organizations stated, they’re aware that Peterson and his followers will likely deem any call for a cancellation of the event “censorship,” however, they assert it is not simply Peterson’s messages they oppose, but more so that “the ideas espoused by Peterson directly jeopardize the safety and well-being of marginalized communities, especially women and transgender people.”
In 2020, there were calls to cancel a tour stop of Franklin Graham to Sheffield Arena in the United Kingdom due to the fact Graham had “repeatedly publicly promoted his homophobic beliefs,” which were called “direct hate speech and incitement to violence against LGBTQ+ communities and individuals, which should not be welcomed in our city or anywhere else.” The event was eventually rescheduled for 2022 after a legal dispute was settled.
In 2022, concern was raised in St. Catherines, another Ontario city, about comedian Jeff Dunham’s booking at the Meridian Centre, home to the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs. Dunham’s shows have been called racist and harmful.
As Saleh Waziruddin, chair of St. Catherines anti-racism advisory committee said in an interview with CBC, “When there's a hate crime, we can't say we're a compassionate city, racism won't be tolerated here, but when a brazenly, openly, racist, misogynist, homophobic act comes to town, we then say 'Oh well, we have no choice but to lie down and do nothing.'”
Fearing for the safety of marginalized groups in the region, the Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women, Horizon Ottawa, Kind Space, Wisdom 2 Action, and the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity are calling on organizations and stakeholders, including the City of Ottawa and Creative Arts Agency (CAA), the talent agency bringing Peterson to Ottawa, to put an end to this event before harm is created.
“If the CAA, the Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa Senators Group and our City Council truly value the lives and well-being of equity-seeking groups throughout the City of Ottawa they will act quickly and work together to ensure this show does not take place in our city,” the letter said.
Peterson's stop in Ottawa is the only one in an arena owned and operated by the ownership of an NHL franchise, but he’s also booked to appear at Amalie Arena and FLA Live Arena, homes of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, on March 8 and 9 respectively, and already appeared at the Anaheim Ducks’ Honda Center in November of 2022.
Yahoo reached out to the Senators, Canadian Tire, the NHL and Peterson for comment. No requests for comment were returned.
More from Yahoo Sports