Standing up for freedom of speech

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Graphic by Lea Clarin
Graphic by Lea Clarin

At the University of Toronto last week, Professor Jordan Peterson held a freedom of speech rally against Bill C-16 which was counter-protested by members and supporters of the trans community.

Peterson believes the bill and associated Ontario Human Rights Commission policies place limitations on free speech in the interests of protecting peoples’ feelings (specifically with regards to using peoples’ proper pronouns). I disagree with him. I feel he is misrepresenting the bill and it is no more drastic than existing legislation protecting other groups. But it is hard to remember that I’m against him when I watch footage of his rally and the counter-protest.

Peterson and his supporters attempted to enter into honest dialogue with the counter-protestors. They were rewarded by white noise generators being blasted to cover up their speech, anger, and vitriol, and one pro-Peterson journalist actually being physically attacked on camera.

Peterson isn’t some anti-trans boogeyman. He is for trans rights. He listened to opposing points. If you are looking to actually change someone’s mind, you could hardly ask for a better opponent than Peterson. But instead of taking this opportunity to try and win someone over, the protestors simply chanted “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

This event is part of a larger pattern that leaves me feeling disenfranchised. I disagree with social conservatives. I support trans rights. I support Bill C-16. But I can’t condone assaulting conservative journalists. The protestors chose to make themselves the faces of marginalized groups, and they chose to present themselves in a way that I, despite sharing their ultimate cause, do not wish to associate myself.

Sometimes, it feels like social conservatism or the far left are the only two options available, and I don’t like either of them. When my friends make unfunny jokes about sexually identifying as an attack helicopter, I have to weigh my desire to tell them to knock it off with my desire to not be associated with people who shouted racist invective at brown people for daring to disagree with them.

It’s the same as with WPIRG. Standing up for the right cause in the wrong way ultimately hurts it in the end. I wish I could just trust other people to maintain my causes in a sane and constructive fashion. I’m slowly realising that if I want positive change, I have to help steer it myself, and I resent that I can’t trust the social activists whose views I align with to constructively represent me.

And although I believe Jordan Peterson is misguided and ultimately wrong in his position, I would like to thank him for standing up for what he believes to be my right to free speech.

Heather Stonehouse, 3B Mathematics

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  • Bob

    Well said!