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Peterson vs Pardy: Dangerous and Misleading Rhetoric

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On Monday, January 23, 2017 a debate was held between Professor Bruce Pardy and Professor Jordan Peterson at the Faculty of Law over the laws of Bill C-16, which amend the Criminal Code and Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression as enumerated grounds for discrimination claims. The event was a fantastic opportunity to both listen to and discuss this complex issue.
 
We at Juris Diction have decided to critique the event in debate fashion ourselves. I will be critiquing the points of Jordan Peterson, and Adnan Subzwari will be arguing in favour of Dr. Peterson’s arguments. I will present three main arguments against Mr. Peterson: 1. The argument consists largely of a slippery slope 2. Dr. Peterson misunderstands the law 3. Dr. Peterson uses unnecessary rhetoric and should adjust the way he approaches the argument.
 
Dr. Peterson’s argument rests largely on slippery slope argumentation. He repeatedly asserted that there would be countless pronouns, and wondered how could anyone possibly keep up with all of them. He envisioned infinite levels of identity which could result in the breaking of a broken law, contempt of court, and jail time.
 
Similar arguments are posited each time we have a step forward in equality rights. For instance. during the gay marriage debate it was that if people are allowed to marry the same gender, they’ll soon be allowed to marry animals. These arguments have failed time and time again because of their hyperbolic nature. The law should be treated as it is and not within some imagined future extreme catastrophe. We are arguing about equality — equality is reasonable.
 
Dr. Peterson also misunderstands the law. He would have you believe that the law is going to force him to use these pronouns – and if he refuses, that jail will be inevitable following a contempt of court decision.
 
Without going into full details on the law (you can read more about it in this article) there are really two aspects to consider. First, Bill C-16: this law simply adds gender identity and expression as enumerated categories to extant laws. The law on its own does not create any requirement to use pronouns. Its most likely interpretation would be in line with the other grounds found in the law (refusal to hire someone or to rent property to them).
 
Are these outrageous claims imposing undue hardships on society, or are they the basic laws of human decency?
 
The second aspect (with which Dr. Peterson takes most issue with) is the Bill’s interpretation. For example, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has suggested that not using an appropriate pronoun may constitute a violation of the equality rights. However, this is not a criminal law interpretation, but a human rights interpretation punishable by a fine. Not a great removal of liberty and freedom, and not a jail sentence — a fine for not accepting someone for who they believe they are.
 
Finally, Dr. Peterson’s rhetoric is misleading and dangerous. Dr. Peterson intentionally uses hyperbole to make his arguments (as discussed previously). He makes these arguments not only to law students but constantly uses mediums targeted at individuals with less legal education (Rebel Media, Joe Rogan’s Podcast, general speeches to undergrad students).
 
To use these platforms and not be clear and correct on the actual law is dangerous and misleading. Bill C-16 is not the great tyranny Dr. Peterson makes it out to be and numerous impressionable youth (including my brother and his friends) have been misled by Dr. Peterson into thinking the thought police will be breaking down their doors and locking up people for not using Ze, Zir, or They properly.
 
Dr. Peterson also undermines the difficulty of being trans-gendered by his philosophical and academic arguments. As a simple example, yesterday he argued that identity is not simply subjective and has elements of group agreement — that two year-olds are the only ones that believe in only their own subjective identity. Whether he is doing it intentionally or just not considering his arguments well enough, comparing trans-gendered people to two year-olds undermines them as individuals and should not be accepted in a respectable debate or conversation.
 
To conclude, I’d like to emphasize that this was a great event and while I do disagree with Dr. Peterson, I respect his opinion and welcome his debate. It was a pleasure to see Professor Pardy debate, which was even better in person than on Youtube.
 
My one regret about the event is that after making his case Prof. Pardy let us know that he clearly did this for academic purposes and it was all clearly rubbish. His views actually line up with those of Dr. Peterson and it’s a shame that there was not someone present (besides the student community) who could debate Dr. Peterson and actually believe in their argument.
 
I would highly encourage all Queen’s Law students to attend any future events put on by the Runnymede Society, as it was a great event.
 
Vlad Krasner (2L) is the Features Editor of Juris Diction.

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