December 16, 2018

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Critics say historic theatre no place for Peterson

Controversial academic Jordan Peterson will be in Winnipeg this weekend to promote his book, but activists are pushing for the venue to cancel his appearance.

Peterson, a University of Toronto professor and clinical psychologist, gained public prominence in 2016 for saying he would refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns. He has become a YouTube celebrity, with a massive following of loyal fans, and is a favourite of some conservatives and the alt-right. His book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, became a bestseller after it was published in January.

He’s been criticized as being anti-transgender and anti-feminist.

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Controversial academic Jordan Peterson will be in Winnipeg this weekend to promote his book, but activists are pushing for the venue to cancel his appearance.

Peterson, a University of Toronto professor and clinical psychologist, gained public prominence in 2016 for saying he would refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns. He has become a YouTube celebrity, with a massive following of loyal fans, and is a favourite of some conservatives and the alt-right. His book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, became a bestseller after it was published in January.

He’s been criticized as being anti-transgender and anti-feminist.

Local Activist Elizabeth Kessler and others are calling for True North to cancel an appearance by Jordan Peterson at the Burton Cummings Theatre this weekend.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Local Activist Elizabeth Kessler and others are calling for True North to cancel an appearance by Jordan Peterson at the Burton Cummings Theatre this weekend.

"He’s spreading a message that’s really hateful. It's full of misogyny, transphobia and racism," said local activist Liz Kessler. "It’s actively encouraging people who might believe a woman’s place is in the home, that we’re inferior to men, and it’s encouraging racists to come out of the woodwork."

Kessler and others are calling for True North Sports and Entertainment to cancel Peterson's lecture, set for Sunday night at the Burton Cummings Theatre. The venue was the site of the famous 1914 mock parliament featuring Nellie McClung, when it was called the Walker Theatre.

The fact Peterson is speaking at the historic venue is particularly grating for Jacob Marks.

"This is the same building where Nellie McClung held her mock parliament for woman’s suffrage. She wasn’t perfect, but that was 100 years ago. Now we’re 100 years later, and we’ve got this guy in here pedalling snake oil that panders to these alienated young men," he said.

True North, which owns the theatre, said it's aware of the complaints.

"We work with reputable promoters that provide a variety of events within our venues and recognize that not all of the programming may be popular with all audiences," a spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Peterson's publicist said he was unavailable for an interview. Late Thursday night, Peterson tweeted about his upcoming appearance and included a link to this article. "Actually, given that the theater (sic) is (almost) sold out, I appear to be quite welcome in Winnipeg, despite the protestors (sic) wishes to the contrary," he wrote.

Live Nation, the tour promoter that booked the venue, did not respond when the Free Press asked how many tickets have been sold.

 

A Facebook page run by Kessler and others titled Jordan Peterson is not welcome in Winnipeg had about 250 likes Wednesday. On Thursday, an open letter asking the theatre to stop the lecture — signed by nine community groups and Point Douglas city council candidate Kate Sjoberg — was posted.

"Peterson professes to be a psychologist and to offer self-help to young men. However, his 'philosophy' implies that women are inferior and should be forced into traditional gender roles," the letter states, adding Peterson allows men to use marginalized groups as scapegoats.

"He prevents them from developing a healthy relationship with masculinity, which results in toxic, unhealthy relationships when men lose their inability to properly engage with their emotions. His teachings are dangerous."

Instead of a protest, an "anti-fascist picnic" will take place in front of the legislature from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The event is open to all, the Facebook page states, but organizers "will be prioritizing space for women, trans people and people of colour."

Drew Eldridge, who is attending Peterson's lecture Sunday, was drawn to Peterson after he made headlines in 2016.

"I was fascinated by how both sides were interacting with one another," he said.

Rise to fame

In 2016, Jordan Peterson gained fame after posting a YouTube video in which he criticized Bill C-16, which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

In the videos, he said he would refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns if asked by students or faculty at the University of Toronto on free speech grounds. Peterson was criticized and protested as transphobic, while the topic and his comments were debated in the media. He rocketed into fame.

In 2016, Jordan Peterson gained fame after posting a YouTube video in which he criticized Bill C-16, which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

In the videos, he said he would refuse to use gender-neutral pronouns if asked by students or faculty at the University of Toronto on free speech grounds. Peterson was criticized and protested as transphobic, while the topic and his comments were debated in the media. He rocketed into fame.

The bill prevents the federal government and businesses with federal oversight from discriminating against people based on their gender identity and added gender identity to hate law sections of the criminal code. It passed that year.

Since then, Peterson has gone from a clinical psychologist and professor to a wildly popular lecturer and a darling of some conservative and alt-right circles. His Youtube account has more than 1.3 million subscribers. He has nearly 800,000 followers on Twitter. He makes about $60,000 a month on Patreon. His self-help book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, published earlier this year, has made top-selling lists across the world. Americans had bought 442,000 copies of Peterson's book as of July 9, U.S. trade magazine Publishers Weekly reported. It's currently Amazon's No. 1 bestseller in the ethics and morality category.

The author and self-help guru lectures on topics ranging from religion to Jungian psychology to self-help for young men, a segment of society he has said is in crisis.

Peterson is also a vocal critic of the far left and social justice. A video he posted eight months ago titled Identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege has more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.

He describes himself as a classical liberal and has said he doesn't align himself with right-wingers or the alt-right. Peterson was seen posing with a Pepe the frog flag — a meme that became an alt-right symbol — and Devon Huxtable, a Toronto man who describes himself as an "ethno-nationalist," in a 2017 photograph circulated online.

In 2012, Peterson testified at a manslaughter trial in Winnipeg. Michael Pearce confessed to the 2007 killing of his boyfriend, Stuart Mark, after learning the victim was HIV-positive. He was found guilty but later recanted his confession. Judge Shawn Greenberg limited testimony by Peterson, saying he had no experience assessing the reliability of confessions.

“In fact, he acknowledges that he has never seen a police confession and did not view the video of the confession in this case," Greenberg wrote in her January 2012 ruling.

The Court of Appeals overturned Pearce's conviction but said the trial judge's decision to limit Peterson's testimony was correct.

Justice Chris Mainella wrote the court was concerned "about the decision to attempt to proffer Dr. Peterson as an expert witness on areas that he was clearly not qualified as he had no background whatsoever regarding police interrogations."

Mainella said Peterson's involvement "unnecessarily complicated and delayed this trial," adding the case validated complaints about the “detrimental impact on the justice system of attempting to use dubious expert opinion.”

Pearce was convicted a second time and given a seven-year prison sentence in 2016.

— Erik Pindera

Eldridge, a Christian, said he then started watching Peterson's lectures on the Bible. He said he's come to admire Peterson's emphasis on moral virtue and his stance on free speech.

Eldrige said he's trying to organize a meeting Saturday to discuss Peterson's ideas with supporters and critics. He said he thinks some activists haven't tried to understand Peterson's ideas, adding he doesn't think Peterson is transphobic or sexist.

"If by 'transphobic' or 'homophobic' they mean something more specific, like that Peterson sometimes talks about these subjects without assuming that every single trans or homosexual person is perfectly fine the way they are, then they’d be on to something," he said.

Eldrige also said he thinks some, but not all, of Peterson's critics are "just cowards, in the pettiest sense."

"I’m sure many of them are reasonable, decent people with legitimate concerns and arguments," he said.

Cynthia Fortlage, a transgender woman and board president of the Rainbow Resource Centre, was among those who signed the open letter.

"If we cannot accept that people are human beings first and foremost, we can’t have a dialogue about anything else," she said.

"Unfortunately, the speaker has proven he doesn’t want to have a dialogue, he wants to share his interpretation of the vast amount of information he knows. He’s a highly intellectual man, but he’s taken a whole bunch of ideas from all over the place, and he’s mashed it up into his own personal interpretation and is presenting it as fact."

Dave Rubin, a commentator and comedian, has been opening for many of Peterson’s shows on the book tour and is scheduled to appear onstage at Sunday's event. On his website, Rubin describes himself as a former progressive who identifies with classical liberalism. In May, he was profiled in a New York Times opinion piece titled Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web, alongside Peterson.

erik.pindera@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Friday, July 27, 2018 at 6:15 AM CDT: Updates with reaction, tweet from Peterson

6:35 AM: Minor corrections

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