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In seeking to discipline him, the Ontario College of Psychologists is infringing upon Jordan Peterson’s charter rights to free expression, according to a court application filed with the Ontario Divisional Court.
The application for judicial review was submitted on Dec. 30 and obtained by Postmedia. Lawyers for the controversial Canadian psychologist and author of two self-help books, argue that the college’s decision to insist Peterson enter remedial training on social media conduct is contrary to the charter. They have asked the court to quash the disciplinary decision and prohibit psychologists from regulating “otherwise lawful public expression on matters unrelated to the practice of psychology.”
“We decided that the best way to challenge this would be in the courts on constitutional grounds,” Peterson, who is also a podcast host on the right-wing Daily Wire network, told Postmedia on Thursday. “I don’t trust the process at the college and no one should.”
Since Peterson rose to fame, beginning back in 2016 over his objections to parts of a law that would add protections for transgender Canadians to human rights codes, the college has received a number of complaints about Peterson’s conduct, he claims.
On Thursday evening, Peterson posted a document online that details a number of such complaints from 2022, which include concerns over his tweets about a plus-sized Sports Illustrated model, Elliot Page’s gender transition, his views on climate change and “aggressive” conduct towards Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary.
In response to the complaints made against Peterson, the college has ordered that he undertake media training, at his own expense, or risk the suspension of his licence to practice in Ontario. Peterson himself put his practice on hold in 2017, but he remains registered as a clinical psychologist. He is also a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Toronto.
A number of the complaints Peterson published on Thursday make reference to psychological practices, such as mandatory reporting of child abuse or neglect, and treatment of eating disorders and gender dysphoria.
Read Jordan Peterson’s tweets that prompted complaints to psychologists’ college
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The legal document, however, argues that Peterson’s statements are “far removed from the practice of psychology,” and as such, the decision “was unreasonable and unduly infringes upon (Peterson’s) free expression in contravention of his Charter rights.”
“Regulating this type of speech from College members, including disciplining College members for making these types of statements, is an inherently and categorically unreasonable limitation of members’ freedom of expression,” the application says.
Peterson is “a proponent of free and open expression, frank dialogue, and political commentary,” the document says. The comments that concerned the college were brought to the attention of the college “not by patients or colleagues, but members of the public who object to (Peterson’s) opinions.”
In the document Peterson posted, at least one complainant suggests they are also a member of the same college of psychologists, although names are redacted, so the National Post was unable to confirm this. Peterson alleges in the document that some of the complainants have falsely claimed that they are his clients. Their names are redacted.
The report from the college covers 446 pages; Peterson posted 56 pages online Thursday. It’s unclear what information has been redacted; lawyers for Peterson said on Friday the full document was not yet public and could not be provided to the National Post.
The legal application cites the college in saying that it was “very concerned that looked at cumulatively, (Peterson’s) public statements may reasonably be regarded by members of the profession as disgraceful, dishonourable and/or unprofessional.” Such decisions, the document notes, are made only if behaviour “undermines public trust in the discipline as a whole or if it raises questions about the psychologist’s ability to” carry out their duties.
Between July 20, 2022 and Nov. 22, 2022, the court document says, Peterson was asked “repeatedly to enter into media coaching,” because it would be “appropriate and in the public interest,” in the words of the college.
The legal document says he declined, as he believes “political commentary … should not be subject” to the college’s review and that the decision to have him attend media training “will have an unacceptable chilling effect on free expression.”
The court file also notes that Peterson was subject to a college investigation that concluded, in March 2020, that similar statements did not suggest Peterson “uses social media in a fashion that would reflect on his practice as a registered clinical psychologist.”
The lawyers for Peterson argue that this position contradicts the more recent disciplinary issues.
The Ontario College of Psychologists did not respond to the National Post’s request for information about whether it had filed court documents in response to Peterson’s legal application.