Viewpoints: For Whom the Bell Tolls: Jordan Peterson and Us All

by EditorK

Then-University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson speaks at an event in Sherwood Park, Alta., on Feb. 11, 2018. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Barry W. Bussey
Updated:  August 26, 2023 


John Donne’s poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is a fitting analogy for what has occurred to Dr. Jordan Peterson. Indeed, it is a warning to every citizen across the land.  I remember still the funeral church bells at my boyhood home in Newfoundland. As Donne so well expressed it,

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

Each bell that tolls reminds us of our own mortality. We are one. As it goes for one it goes for us all.

Dr. Peterson’s loss in his bid for freedom of expression as a licensed psychologist is a loss for each of us. As it goes for him, so it goes for us. We are one.

At some point, Canadians must wake up to the reality that our courts are no longer concerned with the protection of Charter rights. It is now exceedingly evident that the myopic focus of our legal authorities is the protection of the administrative state. The bureaucrats increasingly rule us in our day to day living, as they tell us what we can say and not say, think and not think. With every court case they gain the upper hand in the new world of judicial fiction called “Charter values” all for our own good in the “public interest.”

The term “Charter values” is not found anywhere in our Constitution. It is a judicial creation. Judges in the Peterson case were afraid of the absolute right of freedom of expression exercised by this man of influence. His expression was offensive because, in their view, it violated “Charter values”—not “Charter rights,” but “values.”

The courts, and their defenders of this legal “values” construct, argue that they are not making any judgement on Peterson’s expression. Instead, they are allowing the bureaucratic regulators of the psychology profession to do their job in ensuring that psychologists are not involved in expressing statements that are “demeaning, degrading, and unprofessional” that “may cause harm” to the specific people the statements are directed at and to the community at large. In other words, it is not the courts but the bureaucrats who make those judgements. All the courts do, they argue, is make sure the bureaucrats have the authority to regulate the professionals in their speech in the “public interest.”

“Charter values” then is a mechanism whereby the courts can put a governor on those who take their Charter-protected rights too seriously. We all know that there are no absolute rights to do whatever we want. Freedom of expression must be limited. For example, inciting a mob to rip someone from their house and hang them on a tree is not Charter-protected expression. It is a crime.

The problem with the courts’ use of “Charter values” is that we are left with the dictates of bureaucratic regulators who take it upon themselves to define “public interest” and “Charter values” in a way that defies common sense. Reading the Ontario Divisional Court’s decision, one cannot but be struck by the thought that the bureaucrats that run the College of Psychologists of Ontario are of the view that regulating the profession requires them to ensure that no one is offended by the personal opinions of Dr. Peterson.

What is also obvious is that these bureaucrats, and by extension the Ontario Divisional Court, are particularly bothered by Peterson’s sarcastic rhetoric. Peterson’s social media comments were referred to show the “reasonableness” of the bureaucratic demand that he undergoes remedial training in social media. Consider the exhibits:

  • Peterson responded to two people concerned about over-population with, “You’re free to leave at any point.”
  • On Joe Rogan’s podcast he said a client’s complaint was a “pack of lies” and that air pollution causing the death of children, “it’s just poor children, and the world has too many people on it anyways.”
  • He called Prime Minister Trudeau’s friend Gerald Butts a “prik.”
  • He called Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney, who uses they/them pronouns, an “appalling self-righteous moralizing thing.”
  • When trans man Elliot Page said he was “proud” to introduce a trans TV character, Peterson tweeted, “Remember when pride was a sin? And Ellen Page just had her breasts removed by a criminal physician.”
  • When Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover had a plus-sized model, Peterson tweeted, “Sorry. Not Beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.”

Well, it seems that the “authoritarian tolerance” of the college bureaucrats, backed by the Divisional Court of Ontario, are indeed out to change Dr. Peterson’s mind that his expression was not in the public interest and certainly not worthy of a member of the psychological fraternity. He violated the judicial construct of “Charter values.”

You may find Peterson’s sarcasm over the top. You may find it spot on. The question is, “Should professional regulators, and the courts, weigh in on our public musings on social media and remove our professional status for sarcasm?” If you think so, be prepared, for you may well be next.

The Court bell tolls.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.


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