Jordan Peterson 2
© Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network
U of T Professor Jordan Peterson debates Bill C-16 and the gender provisions in the Ontario Human Rights Code at at the Sandford Fleming Building at the University of Toronto on Saturday November 19, 2016.
My God, if that thing at the University of Toronto on Saturday was a debate about free speech, then the battle is already well and truly lost.

This was the "forum" on Bill C-16 put on by the arts and sciences faculty, wherein the embattled psychology professor Dr. Jordan Peterson was to engage in presumably spirited discussion about implications of including "gender identity" and "gender expression" in the Canadian Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code.

(Those amendments were the focus of C-16, which passed in the House of Commons on Friday, as compared to Bill C-17, which is how the university helpfully described the event on the tickets to it. Bill C-17 actually amended the federal Food and Drugs Act and passed into law two years ago.)

Jordan Peterson debate
© Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network
U of T Professor Jordan Peterson debates Bill C-16 and the gender provisions in the Ontario Human Rights Code at at the Sandford Fleming Building at the University of Toronto on Saturday November 19, 2016.
It was Peterson who brought the issue to the fore with a series of videos he made and posted on YouTube this fall, during which he worried aloud about the bill (C-16 not 17), suggested that probably even making the videos, let alone pledging that he wasn't going to use gender-neutral pronouns if asked to do so, was now probably illegal.

The videos sparked a firestorm of reaction, saw Peterson receive two warning letters from the university (including one co-signed by arts and science dean David Cameron, who kicked the event off on Saturday with the now required and thus unctuous nod to it taking place on the traditional lands of various indigenous peoples) and has put his career at risk.

Then moderator Mayo Moran, a lawyer and former law school dean who is now the provost of Trinity College, came to the microphone to acknowledge the difficulty of the subject matter and to announce that the university had arranged "for support" for anyone who might need it just outside the hall.

The format consisted of a two-against-one setup, Peterson against two other professors — lawyer Brenda Cossman, who is the director of sexual diversity studies at the university, and the University of British Columbia's Dr. Mary Bryson, a professor in language and literacy and in the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice.

Professor Jordan Peterson
© Michael Peake/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network
Prof. Jordan Peterson
(Bryson's official profile on the UBC site uses the pronoun "they" to refer to her, as in, "Throughout Mary's 27 years at UBC, they have served in many senior administrative roles..." I take from this that "they" is her preferred pronoun, but I decline to use it.)

She began by immediately denouncing Peterson, comparing him to the late Philippe Rushton (or, as Bryson spelled it, "Philip"), another psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario who made controversial links between the brain sizes of the three major races and concluded that Orientals (Asians, as they would now be called) were smarter than Whites and Whites smarter than Blacks.

In her opening written statement, Bryson quoted from David Suzuki's opening remarks at the 1989 debate between the two men: "I do not want to be here. I do not want to dignify this man and his ideas in public debate."

She continued throughout to refer to Peterson as "this man" who was making "knowledge claims as a professor" without "peer-reviewed scholarship", at one point declared that "the goal of reducing inequality" has "always been the fundamental goal of education" and in her closing remarks suggested the U of T ought to consider "an apology for any damages to the right of safety and the right to humanity on the part of trans and gender-diverse people at the university."

Transgender pronoun boycott
© Tyler Anderson/National Post
Quinn Valkyrie holds a sign at a protest against anti-political correctness professor Jordan Peterson at University of Toronto on Oct. 5.
Cossman began by congratulating "all those faculty and students who are boycotting today's event" and pronouncing absence as "also a very important form of speech." (I presume she similarly applauds all those Americans who boycotted the recent election that saw Donald Trump become the president-elect.) She offered no comparable show of respect to the students who actually made the effort to show up, mislabelled tickets in hand, and packed the lecture hall.

Both women also quickly claimed the patent on compassion.

As Cossman said once, "Why does all this matter?

"Because people matter...This at the end of the day is about people. It's about trans and gender and non-binary people. These are our children, our siblings, our nieces, our nephews, these are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues, our lawyers, our carpenters, our teachers.

"How bloody hard is it to simply treat these people with respect and dignity? Because all human rights are about is respect and dignity.

"Throwing a little kindness on the top, that would be even better."

Bryson, similarly, hinted that Peterson, like Rushton had been in Suzuki's view, was "either grossly ignorant or deliberately mischievous" and said, "Surely, the deliberate production of ignorance concerning a precarious minority group constitutes evidence of the most unethical abnegation of the responsibility of academics to contribute to human well-being, collective intelligence, flourishing and the survival of planetary life."

As for Peterson, who appeared aghast at much of this nearly magnificent nonsense, he may have been out-numbered but he was not out-gunned, and hit it out of the park several times.

He told the students that an excess of compassion was dangerous.

"I would suggest very strongly that all these people who continually talk about compassion do not in the least have your best interests in mind.

"There are far more virtues and values than an excess of pity for people.

"You don't want to pity your children, you want to encourage them to develop in a strong and forthright manner so they can go out and take on the world.

"An excess of compassion just ensures when they're 40, they're going to be living in your basement, plotting evil routines about the world because their ability to realize themselves as successful human beings has been absolutely compromised..."

As for the analogy to Rushton and racial slurs, he snapped, "I don't think there's any analogy at all."

"I'm talking about compelled speech.

"There's a difference between saying something you can't say and saying that there are things that you {italics}have{end italics} to say."

Peterson, it's worth remembering, has not actually refused to use someone's preferred pronoun; he's merely declared his intention to refuse.

He thought, he said, that what he was doing in the videos was "criticizing a piece of legislation that had not yet been passed."

Yet he's already been subject to disciplinary action (the warning letters) and he's braced for the Ontario Psychological Association to "come after my clinical license."

And instead of a proper debate Saturday, he got that hyper-controlled (there were no live questions from the crowd, except as read by the moderator), self-congratulatory and utterly pale imitation of one.