Canadian academics question Toronto’s response to ‘discrimination’

University of Toronto must prove professor’s comments constitute ‘violation of law’, says Canadian Association of University Teachers

October 26, 2016
Freedom of speech
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The University of Toronto’s response to a professor’s comments on gender identity may risk infringing academic freedom and free speech rights, according to the national association for academics.

Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the university, has been at the centre of a furore after he made two hour-long YouTube lectures criticising the institution’s policy on “political correctness” and objecting to government legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.

In one of the videos, he says: “I don’t recognise another person’s right to determine what pronouns I use to address them. I won’t do it.”

In response, the university issued a warning about speech or acts that “silence or demean individuals or groups”, and senior administrators sent Professor Peterson a letter asking him to stop making statements that could be considered discriminatory under provincial human rights legislation, according to The Globe and Mail.

However, David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, told the newspaper that whether Professor Peterson’s comments constitute the kind of speech that can be limited under Canadian legislation is up for debate.

“The onus is on the university to prove that his refusal to use certain pronouns constitutes a violation of law,” he said.

“In the context of a university, we believe that academic freedom and free expression is a core foundational value. There would have to be serious illegal expression that would justify any limitation.”

Last week, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, vice-president of human resources and equity at the university, said that the Ontario Human Rights Code protects against discrimination based on gender expression and gender identity.

“Academic freedom means faculty are free to criticise laws; but they are also expected to abide by these laws,” she said.

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