Patrick Deane, president of McMaster University in Hamilton, has joined other Canadian university presidents in silencing the debate of controversial ideas on campus. University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson was invited to speak at McMaster on March 17, about freedom of speech and political correctness. Peterson has gained national – and even international – notoriety for his principled philosophical rejection of his university’s edict to use “gender-neutral” pronouns rather than “he” and “she.”
The day before the scheduled presentation, McMaster’s official “Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community” stated that Peterson should not have been invited to speak. As the committee put it: “There is little to be gained by debating Dr. Peterson.” Instead, the committee called for “public opposition” and “public protest.”
With the committee’s obvious encouragement, a mob of loud protesters effectively shut down Peterson’s event on March 17. They rang bells and beat drums, chanting “Shut him down!” and “Transphobic piece of s–t!” Peterson could not be heard in the classroom. He eventually went outside, the loud mob following.
One can’t help but remember what happened in Germany from 1921 to 1933, when the “brown shirts” disrupted the meetings of anti-Nazi political parties.
Unlike Hitler’s brown shirts, today’s social justice warriors are usually non-violent. But disrupting a meeting is easy to do. Academic discussion and thoughtful debate are, in fact, very fragile, because they require the cooperation of people who are willing to debate their opponents, rather than silence them with noise and disruption. With bell-ringing, drum-beating and chanting, the non-violent brown shirts were successful in ensuring that Peterson was not heard.
The reasoning of this McMaster committee is as specious as it is predictable. Rather than engage in debate (which, God forbid, might result in losing the argument), the committee asserts that Peterson should not be heard because of his “callous disregard” for the personhood of transgender people. This accusation is a clever way to avoid addressing the question of whether it is right and just for governments or employers to force people to use words which they don’t want to use. Peterson objects to the coercive imposition of a speech code, whether by government legislation or by publicly funded universities.
This committee also accused Peterson of having little knowledge of his subject, again avoiding the issue of whether the coercive imposition of speech codes is compatible with Canada’s free and democratic society. The ad hominem attack against the messenger, rather than his message, is as old as human history.
The committee’s other arguments boil down to the same old arrogance that social justice warriors always use: “I am so right, and it’s so obvious that I’m right, that I’m entitled to silence those who disagree with me.”
A few days later, McMaster’s Deane stated that the disruption of Peterson’s speaking opportunity did not reflect “the standard of academic debate that we would aspire to model on our campus.” What debate does Deane speak of? There was no debate. The shouting, drum-beating, bell-ringing mob entirely prevented it. Deane lauded the mob as legitimate “peaceful protest” that McMaster will continue to allow in future. Deane bragged about not having cancelled Peterson’s event, but he let the non-violent brown shirts do exactly this. Deane believes that it’s fine to silence your opponents, as long as your tactics are non-violent.
This same thinking prevails at the University of Alberta, which is fighting in court to continue with its practice of allowing loud, unruly mobs to shut down campus events, as long as the mob is non-violent. The case of UAlberta Pro-Life v. University of Alberta will be heard in Edmonton on June 8 and 9.
Would Deane himself tolerate a mob that silenced him on campus with loud chants of “Shut him down!” along with drum-beating and bell-clanging? Surely not. Deane would call security to have the “peaceful” noise-makers removed from the room.
Each year, McMaster and other public universities receive over $13 billion from Canadian taxpayers, by claiming to be a forum for debate, in the pursuit of truth. Deane and other university presidents betray the public’s trust condoning the mob censorship of controversial ideas and speakers. It’s high time for reasonable citizens to revisit their compelled support for universities which do not require students to think and reason, and instead allow students to silence speakers with whom they disagree. I invite readers to sign the “No taxpayer funding for universities that censor” petition, available at www.jccf.ca.
John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which acts for the pro-life students who are suing the University of Alberta.