CCF reaction to result in Jordan Peterson freedom of expression case

CCF reaction to result in Jordan Peterson freedom of expression case

TORONTO: The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) is disappointed in the result in the judicial review of a case between public intellectual Dr Jordan Peterson and the College of Psychologists of Ontario. The dispute is over professional penalties, in the form of mandatory training, imposed on Dr Peterson by the College. This order for training was a result of public statements Dr Peterson had made on social media. The comments did not relate to the practice of psychology. The complaints were made by members of the public, not by any individuals who Dr Peterson had ever treated as a patient.

The CCF was an intervener in the judicial review, arguing that professionals have private lives and regulators may not discipline for off-duty conduct that lacks a clear nexus to the profession. Where off-duty conduct engages a Charter right, like freedom of expression, regulators have a heightened duty to ensure they have given full effect to the Charter protection.

“We are disappointed in this result, which we think could have a chilling effect on people in other regulated professions, like doctors, lawyers, teachers and accountants,” said CCF Litigation Director Christine Van Geyn. “Professionals should not have to soft pedal their speech for fear that activists will weaponize regulatory bodies so that unpopular speech is penalized, even when there is no connection between that speech and the profession.”

The Divisional Court did not accept Dr Peterson’s argument that his comments were “off duty” and outside his role as a psychologist. Writing for the court, Justice Schabas found that Dr Peterson “cannot speak as a member of a regulated profession without taking responsibility for the risk of harm that flows from him speaking in that trusted capacity.”

“We hope that Dr Peterson will appeal this result, which will have long lasting impacts beyond his case. The right to freedom of expression must be given more weight than the court gave it here, and the mere assertion of risk of harm is not enough. While controversial and inflammatory, there is no suggestion that any of the people Dr Peterson made comments about were harmed in any way, and indeed, they were not the source of the complaints. Complaints were made by members of the public who simply did not like what Dr Peterson said, or worse, how he said it. This is not a sufficient basis for action by the regulator when weighed against Dr Peterson’s constitutional right to freedom of expression,” said Van Geyn.

The CCF is represented in this case by George Avraam, Ahmed Shafey and Juliette Mestre of Baker McKenzie LLP. The CCF is grateful for their hard work and diligence on this case. If Dr Peterson appeals, the CCF will seek leave to intervene.

Members of the public interested in supporting the work of the CCF can make a tax deductible charitable donation at

Image by Gage Skidmore and used under CC 2.0.