Bill C-16 seeks to amend “the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination” and to amend the Criminal Code so that gender identity and gender expression are listed under the definition of “identifiable group” for protection against hate propaganda and are listed as aggravating circumstances for hate crimes. It passed its third reading in the House of Commons on Nov. 18, 2016 and is now making its way through the Senate. It is because of his criticism of this bill that University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson became famous last fall. He, Gad Saad, professor and Chair in Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences and Darwinian Consumption at Concordia University, and Theryn Meyer, a South African “trans woman” and music student at Simon Fraser University, are among the most vocal voices against C-16.
On May 10, Saad testified before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on Bill C-16. Saad said that at the root of his work in evolutionary psychology and behavioural sciences is the “profoundly obvious reality that humans are a sexually reproducing, sexually dimorphic species consisting of reproductively viable males and females,” though he also acknowledged the existence of intersex and transgender people. He wondered if the “foundational tenets of evolution might be construed as legal transgressions under Bill C-16.”
He mocked the idea of gender fluidity, sharing a story about how one of his students argued that professors should poll their students at the start of class about their gender identities. He pointed out that the Office of BGLTQ Student Life at Harvard University distributed material indicating that gender identity and expression could change every day. He asked if his student was transphobic “since she did not consider the daily fluidity of one’s gender identity.” He pushed further, “What about minute to minute changes? Should professors poll their students every tenth minute of every lecture to find out if their gender identities have changed since last asked?”
He called government initiatives such as C-16 to appease a minority of non-binary or non-gendered people an example of “tyranny of the minority” – that “99 per cent of the population should acquiesce to having a default feature of their personhood erased because a few individuals might be inconvenienced by it.” He accused these individuals of “collective Munchausen” – declaring victimhood through identity politics and intersectionality for sympathy.
He wondered where “the slippery slope of totalitarian lunacy” might lead – will we be forced to accept transracialism, when one person identifies as a member of a race other than their own, à la Rachel Dolezal, a white person who identifies as black? He concluded, “People have the right to live as equal citizens under the law; they do not have the right to demand that their identities be coddled and celebrated lest they might otherwise get offended.”
Meyer’s testimony immediately followed. He alleged that freedom of speech was necessary for transgender individuals and for inspiring change in general, and as such, “Bill C-16 ultimately works against the very group it’s been advertised to protect.” Meyer also pointed out that Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould has conceded that the term “identifiable group” in the Criminal Code already protects transgender individuals.
On May 17, Peterson testified before the same committee. He argued that unlike previous legislation curtailing the use of certain offensive language, this bill requires “compelled speech” namely the use of preferred pronouns. He stated that he thinks “it’s unbelievably dangerous for us to move towards representing a social constructionist view of identity in our legal system” as there is a tremendous amount of evidence indicating that identity is not merely the result of socialization. Sexual identity, biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual proclivity do not vary independently, Peterson insisted.
Both Meyer and Peterson speculated that with the inclusion of “gender expression” in the bill, criticizing one’s dress or refusing someone a job because of their tattoos and piercings could be grounds for being hauled in front of a human rights tribunal. Jared Brown, Peterson’s lead counsel, affirmed that it would be possible for one to go to jail if one breaks a human rights tribunal order.
Senator Ratna Omidvar, referring to Peterson as “Mr. Peterson,” instead of “Dr.,” as was done multiple times during the hour, compared his opinion to a “party of one,” which, she adds, “you are absolutely entitled to,” with the published documents from the Canadian Psychological Association, the American Psychological Association, the Canadian Medical Association, etc. and the “feelings and testimony” of transgender individuals. Peterson responded by saying he agreed with the organizations that unreasonable discrimination is wrong, but that he took issue with the specifics of the bill, and contested that the transgender individuals who had testified for the bill were not necessarily representative of the transgender “community.”
On May 18, following two weeks of hearings, the Senate committee passed C-16 without any amendments or observations. Peterson commented, “Canadians beware. Freedom of speech has been compromised.” The bill is expected to pass its third and final vote in the Senate and receive royal assent before summer.