By Angelica Vecchiato:

Occupational licensing bodies— originally intended to uphold professional standards by regulating and overseeing work in a particular field— are increasingly being used as self-righteous vessels to quash dissenting, minority opinions. In the name of “holding people accountable,” the tyranny of regulatory bodies such as nursing associations has ramped up, especially over the past couple of months.

Canadian academic Jordan Peterson’s head-to-head row with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) earlier this year is a prime example of an encroachment of regulatory powers. With complaints filed against him, the CPO threatened to remove Peterson’s clinical license if he didn’t go through with a mandatory “coaching program” for his “lack of professional statements.”

The “professional statements” in question refer to comments Peterson made over Twitter, where he expressed unpopular thoughts about Trudeau, vaccination mandates, and COVID-19 lockdowns. The former University of Toronto professor made an appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast episode, aired on Jan. 25, 2022, which struck the ire of the CPO.

Peterson’s not the only one occupational licensing professional bodies are after. His popularity doesn’t make him an exception to the rule.

In early November 2020, the British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives (BCCNM) told Vancouver-based psychiatric nurse Amy Hamm that she was under investigation for her “off-duty conduct.”

Hamm, a single mother of two, has always been vocal in her support of authentic women’s rights in the face of widespread so-called third and fourth-wave feminism which likens biological women — fitted with the appropriate, natural anatomy — to “trans women.” She has openly criticized gender ideology and has organized events where the topic can be discussed openly, respectfully taking into account different perspectives. More famously, she was responsible for putting up the “I (heart) JK Rowling” billboard in Vancouver. Rowling, the British author of the famed Harry Potter series, has been an outspoken advocate of women’s single-sex spaces.

It was the billboard which acted as the catalyst for backlash. Complaints were lodged against Hamm, condemning her as a “transphobe.” Her crime was simple: she spoke out against gender ideology in a time when it isn’t acceptable to do so. Her personal views were enough to endanger her livelihood.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which has taken up the defense for Hamm, remarks that “there are no patient complaints, and no confidential medical records in issue — just activists expressing ‘concern’ that Ms. Hamm’s views should prohibit her from a career as a nurse.” 

In commenting on Hamm’s case, Michael V. Higgins of the National Post compares this aggressive modern-day, occupational licensing “cancel culture” with the 14th century Spanish Inquisition that targeted “conversos” which were Jews who converted to Catholicism but were thought to still practice Judaism covertly. He notes that going after Conversos “wasn’t enough,” which spurred on the persecutions of different groups. “To protect the faith – whether it be Catholicism or wokeism – you have to ensure the orthodoxy is widespread and enforced,” wrote Higgins. “So the Inquisition then went after moriscos (Muslims who had converted), and then Lutherans, and then Freemasons. There was always a target.”

The targeting Higgins speaks about concerns the JCCF and Hamm who worry that “activists are now weaponizing the professional regulatory regime to intimidate opponents and punish opinions outside of a narrow orthodoxy, thrusting professionals into a stressful and often lengthy disciplinary ordeal which they are told they may not discuss.”

The BCCNM is arguing that as a regulated professional, Hamm is not allowed to make comments about gender ideology or the commonly peddled transgender narrative which advances the idea that trans women are indeed “real women.”

However, the imperious actions of licensing bodies begs the question: should personal views call into question one’s professional ethic? Are regulatory bodies even needed to hold people accountable?

J.D. Tuccille, contributing editor at the libertarian Reason magazine, doesn’t think so. “Occupational licensing doesn’t offer the benefits its advocates claim, and it raises barriers to those seeking economic opportunity,” Tuccille wrote.” Unless you’re a fan of handing political weapons to regulators who want to muzzle dissent, there’s little good to say about making people seek permission to make a living.”

Hamm isn’t the only casualty of progressive occupational licensing bodies; there are other instances. In Georgia, 19-year veteran Jacob Kersey felt compelled to quit his job as at the Port Wentworth Police Department after facing intensive backlash for his Facebook post that said, “there’s no such thing as homosexual marriage.”

On a more macro scale, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) adopted a policy in April 2021 to combat “misinformation circulating on social media and other platforms regarding physicians who are publicly contradicting public health orders and recommendations.” A medical professional publicly questioning COVID-19 lockdowns or regulations would face investigation from the CPSO and disciplinary action down the line.

Occupational licensing bodies are increasingly being used to muzzle opposing perspectives and voices. In the face of a widespread culture that harshly persecutes those deemed threats, Higgins asks, “are you willing to lose your job for speaking out? Or will you stay silent?”