Over 60 participants attended the council meeting that voted to bar the controversial Canadian intellectual.
Did you hear that rumour during the winter break that the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) was planning on inviting Jordan Peterson to speak at an event?
It caused quite a stir: hundreds of students spoke out in different ways for, and against, the famed and controversial Canadian clinical psychologist being featured at the university.
But the story of Peterson taking the spotlight at ASFA came to a close at the association’s Dec. 16 regular council meeting, when a majority of the council voted against platforming Peterson, in-person or in any medium, forever.
Minutes of the ASFA executive meeting on Nov. 25 reveal that the initial idea, proposed by Student Life Coordinator Natalie Jabbour, was to invite Peterson as a speaker on mental health during the winter semester.
“One of my ideas was to invite Jordan Peterson as a speaker. I know he’s a controversial speaker but I think he has brilliant ideas on psychology. I messaged his manager yesterday,” stated Jabbour at the meeting.
Curiously, Jabbour later told The Concordian she did not intend on organizing an event that featured Peterson, despite contacting his manager. Her intention was solely to discuss her event ideas during the winter semester, which also included suggesting another enterprise called “The School of Life,” an educational company that gives life advice.
Following the meeting, several executives shared news of Jabbour’s proposal through personal messages, emails to the student media, and posts on social media. The news spread like wildfire.
Various posts, hundreds of emails and signatures on a petition were shared online to support both opinions.
However, Peterson is not available for any guest speaking engagements at the moment, according to his public speaking and engagements contact.
Since he is unavailable, Jabbour decided to change the event from being about mental health support for students featuring Peterson, to an event solely about Peterson and freedom of speech.
The new event discussed at the council was called “Diversity of Views in Academics at Concordia University.” Organized by ASFA’s Student Life Committee, the event would have been moderated by a Concordia professor, who would help guide the discussion as students watched, and then critiqued, the subject matter.
It would have showcased Peterson in some format, either through a speech, lecture, or written material.
Before the deciding vote to bar Peterson, the council debated for over three hours whether the association should even consider hosting Peterson. ASFA executives and councillors, several students and alumni, participated in the over-attended meeting to speak on the rumoured event.
Opinions were divided between people who thought Peterson’s rhetoric should be protected by freedom of speech ideals and the need to hear different opinions on campus, versus those that thought the responsible course of action is to ban the speaker, citing his rhetoric as harmful and discriminatory.
This reflected the same debate — and backlash — which the University of Toronto professor became internationally known for in the first place. Back in 2016, he refused to use non-gendered pronouns and spoke out against Canada’s Bill C-16, which was only at it’s proposal stage at the time, to add gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
He feared that refusing to use someone else’s preferred pronouns would be classified as hate speech under the new amendment, and this would infringe on the freedom of Canadians.
Those who spoke in favour of Peterson at the meeting did not address his controversial statements. Instead, they pointed to the importance of having a civil discussion.
According to an ASFA executive who requested to remain anonymous, while these events would feature Peterson, they weren’t about him, they were about freedom of expression on campus.
They told The Concordian they have noticed an increasingly hostile environment at Concordia, particularly in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, with certain groups of students feeling “disenfranchised.” This individual is “concerned over legitimately not being able to say what’s on their mind.”
According to the source, this has become a widespread issue at the university, manifesting as “hostility towards certain ideas … that’s aimed at censoring and blocking people.”
When asked to provide an example of this hostility, or an even example of the types of ideas being ostracized, the source refused.
The purpose of the events, according to the source, would be to encourage ideas, not censoring or suppressing information over people’s feelings – no “cancelling,” with the hope of improving critical thinking and discourse on campus.
The idea of freedom of speech on campus and fighting against the cancelling of other opinions is not new, and Peterson is largely to thank for that.
A large part of Peterson’s platform was about freedom of speech, the end of political correctness, and the attempt to end or discourage Marxist/radical left ideology on campus.
Several gendered-non-conforming people who spoke at the council meeting said their identity was not up for debate.
Many described the harassment they’ve received over their choice of pronouns and lifestyle, and pointed out that rhetoric like Peterson’s had only helped to inflame the discrimination they’ve faced.
In a statement to the The Concordian, ASFA Communications Coordinator Carmen Levy-Milne said showcasing Peterson’s views would contradict the organization’s anti-discrimination regulations.
“It is morally inappropriate to suggest that a speaker who is openly sexist, islamophobic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist, and transphobic speak at our university … The suggestion to openly platform a speaker contradicts our Policy against Harassment, Discrimination, and Violence,” said Levy-Milne.
The motion to bar Peterson from being featured at the association followed this reasoning.
Proposed by Payton Mitchell, ASFA’s Mobilization Coordinator, the motion outlines that “Allowing Jordan Peterson to have this space would mean ASFA is directly facilitating an environment in which stochastic terrorism may be fostered here at Concordia.”
Peterson may no longer be platformed at ASFA or any of its member associations.
Peterson’s media representative at Penguin Random House Canada told The Concordian they had no comment.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam