CAFE Calls for Open Minded Dialogue in Response to Censorship and Polarization on Canadian Campuses

Statement issued Monday, November 28, 2016

In recent weeks, Professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto has become a controversial figure due to his stance on several issues at the intersection of freedom of speech and identity politics.

Reasonable people may disagree on the best way to simultaneously protect the rights of transgendered individuals while also protecting the rights of academics to express unpopular viewpoints. However, we must all accept as our starting point that it is wrong to engage in tactics of intimidation, harassment or aggression in order to silence dissent, and that we must all be held to these same standards.

In the midst of the wildest disagreement on possibly everything else, we must all unite in our effort to build a university campus that remains a safe place for open dialogue even – and especially – on sensitive and politically charged topics.

The Canadian Association for Equality is an educational charity guided by values which stand firmly on the side of protecting individuals from harassment, hate and discrimination as well as promoting equality of opportunity for all.

CAFE has decided to release this statement as a result of the lessons we may draw from our own history, for some of our own events have been subject to riotous behaviour on the part of our critics. These unsuccessful attempts to derail CAFE’s message that gender equality must be inclusive of all genders have taken the form of aggressive bullying, violations of the University of Toronto Policy on the Disruption of Meetings, and unlawful behaviour such as pulling fire alarms and blocking emergency exits.

We are now seeing the same unacceptable acts of aggressive intimidation in response to the comments by Professor Jordan Peterson. We are not commenting here on the particulars of Professor Peterson’s beliefs or ideas, because to do so would be beside the point. Bullying, harassment and violence are wrong no matter who those acts are committed by, and we must all condemn this behaviour. It’s that simple.

Such acts are especially repugnant at a Canadian university. Whatever your views of Professor Peterson’s position, it is not only the right but the highest duty of university professors to pursue truth through research and debate. Professor Peterson has been careful to articulate his point of view in a civil, clear, responsible and rational manner, and while others are free to disagree strongly with him, his unpopular beliefs should not subject him to administrative censure or student mobbing.

We support Professor Peterson’s right to discuss and even to advocate his viewpoint just as we support the right of his critics to fully argue their position in response. We are heading in a dangerous direction if we do otherwise. These efforts at censorship, which are fast becoming the new norm at Canadian universities, must not be allowed to go unchallenged. Efforts to keep students free from hurt feelings are instead leading us to a more polarized, dangerous and aggressive campus.

CAFE supports valiant work now underway to respond to these developments not with further polarization but with opportunities for open dialogue and engagement. We applaud the University of Toronto for organizing a public forum to debate the issues raised by Professor Peterson.

Our own organization will do its part to foster dialogue when we screen The Red Pill on Sunday, December 2nd at 7:00PM at the University of Toronto. The film starts with the assumption that feminists and men’s rights activists exist across a chasm. Then, through the efforts of the film’s protagonist to engage in mutual understanding, the film provides a lesson in how open-minded dialogue may lead to the discovery of unexpected common ground between once rival ideologies.

We sincerely hope such a lesson is quickly heeded, and we promise to continue to work to preserve Canadian campuses as truly safe spaces where ideas may be expressed freely without fear of intimidation.