Poilievre won’t allow facts to get in the way of some fiery rhetoric

Pierre Poilievre’s crusade against Canadian institutions knows no bounds, whether it’s the Bank of Canada, public-health departments, the judiciary or the news media.

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Pierre Poilievre’s crusade against Canadian institutions knows no bounds, whether it’s the Bank of Canada, public-health departments, the judiciary or the news media.

The Conservative Party of Canada leader’s latest target: self-regulated professional bodies.

Poilievre has thrown his support behind controversial Canadian psychologist and YouTube star Jordan Peterson, the alt-right former University of Toronto professor who has made a name for himself disseminating transphobic, misogynistic and climate-change denying views.

Peterson has been banned from Twitter for his hate speech (but since reinstated by new owner Elon Musk) and widely criticized for comments that have included body-shaming and making light of suicide.

He is facing disciplinary action by the College of Psychologists of Ontario which, like most professional bodies, maintains and enforces a code of conduct. Peterson has been ordered by the college to enrol in social-media communication training. He has refused and is seeking a judicial review of the college’s decision.

For this, Poilievre claims Peterson is a victim of the “cancel culture” and the “woke movement” that’s occurring on “university campuses, in the media and now, increasingly, in big, powerful corporations and, most recently, with a professional licensing body,” he said in a video posted last week.

“We’re seeing the idea that someone can lose their job, their status, their ability to study because they express something that is contrary to the government line,” said Poilievre. “I don’t believe that is the Canada we want.” Poilievre says he doesn’t support everything Peterson says, but defends his right to express his views.

Self-regulated professional bodies have existed for generations in Canada. They are designed to allow professionals such as medical doctors, nurses and lawyers to govern themselves, usually under the authority of provincial legislation.

Professionals, including licensed psychologists, agree to those terms when they become members of their self-regulating bodies. They know the rules going in.

Like most colleges, the College of Psychologists of Ontario demands their members uphold ethical standards, both inside and outside their practice.

Members who provide “information, advice or comment to the public via any medium” must ensure, among other things, that “the statements are consistent with the professional standards, policies and ethics currently adopted by the College,” the organization’s standards of professional conduct state.

In other words, licensed professionals can’t do or say anything they want and remain in good standing with their colleges. In fact, nobody in Canada can say anything they want publicly.

Libel laws and hate-speech legislation set boundaries for people. Codes of conduct by self-regulated bodies impose additional limits to protect the public from illegitimate and unscrupulous practitioners.

That’s not an attack on freedom of speech, as Poilievre alleges. Those are reasonable limits prescribed by law in a free and democratic society.

Codes of conduct, including how they are enforced, are appealable to the courts. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, self-regulating bodies can’t impose undue restrictions on their members. Any limits on freedom of expression must be reasonable and saved by Sec. 1 of the charter. Otherwise, they will likely be overturned. Courts have both upheld and quashed decisions by self-regulating bodies.

If Peterson has a legitimate case that his charter rights have been breached, the courts will sort it out. The system isn’t perfect, but it works relatively well.

Naturally, Poilievre offers no solution to his claim that self-regulating bodies are dysfunctional. What is the alternative? Allowing professionals to practise without licences?

Does Poilievre suggest self-regulating bodies should not maintain and enforce codes of conduct? If so, how would he eliminate them?

Most self-regulating bodies in Canada exist under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government has no authority to alter their makeup.

The answer is that Poilievre is not interested in an intelligent debate on the matter. He is simply using the Peterson case to fuel rage and to create the false perception that Canadians have “lost control of their lives” and that only he, as prime minster, can fix it.


Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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