Canadian psychologist and renowned author Dr. Jordan Peterson lost his appeal against the College of Psychologists of Ontario, which had previously ordered him to undergo remedial social media training.
A panel of three judges with the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed Peterson’s motion for leave to appeal as part of a previous decision by the Ontario Divisional Court on Tuesday.
No reasons for the decision were given, which is not abnormal in appeal cases.
“I think it’s going to be a licence to regulatory bodies to be more aggressive,” lawyer Howard Levitt, who represented Peterson in the case, told the National Post.
They are unable to appeal the case further, according to Levitt, who specializes in employment law and is also a regular columnist for the Financial Post.
The Toronto lawyer is surprised by the decision, in particular that the courts weren’t more interested in weighing in on how far professional regulatory bodies should be allowed to go in pursuit of policing its members’ freedom of speech.
“Is there free speech in Canada? To what extent are the limits on free speech in Canada, to free speech which is not criminal or not tortious, not a violation of any law? To what extent are regulated professionals and regulated trades impacted in terms of what they can say in the public forum?” said Levitt. “These are important issues and Canada has been castigated broadly for the decision of the divisional court.”
The Ontario Divisional Court agreed that the College of Psychologists of Ontario was allowed to force Peterson to undergo social media training in August.
“Requiring coaching following apparently unheeded advice seems a reasonable next step, proportionately balancing statutory objectives against Charter rights which are minimally impaired, if they are impaired at all, by the (college’s decision to require coaching),” reads the 18-page court decision.
Peterson then went on to appeal the August ruling, attempting to have it overturned.
The College of Psychologists of Ontario claims it received several complaints regarding Peterson’s online presence on social media in 2022.
Among those complaints were his comments about a plus-size Sports Illustrated model which he called “not beautiful” and the gender transition of actor Elliot Page.
Peterson himself posted a document of the detailed complaints against him in January 2023.
The college responded to these complaints by forcing Peterson to undergo social media training, at his own cost, or have his license to practice psychology in Ontario suspended.
However, Peterson had already put his practice on hold in 2017, while still working as a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Toronto.
In response to the college’s demands, Peterson refused.
He questioned the validity of the college’s authority to regulate his online speech. Peterson’s claims that his speech is and was political, and therefore remains outside of the purview of the college’s authority.
“I have already undertaken the remediation of my actions in a manner very much akin to what has been suggested by the (Inquiries, Complains and Reports Committee) and have done so in an exceptionally thorough and equally exceptionally public and transparent manner,” Peterson wrote to the college.
None of Peterson’s comments on social media were in violation of any Canadian laws but instead were found to have breached specific rules in place for psychologists, a profession which has a professional regulatory body.
“When individuals join a regulated profession, they do not lose their Charter right to freedom of expression,” said the ruling by the Ontario Divisional Court from August. “At the same time, however, they take on obligations and must abide by the rules of their regulatory body that may limit their freedom of expression.”
“The order is not disciplinary and does not prevent Dr. Peterson from expressing himself on controversial topics.”
Peterson responded to the dismissal of his appeal via a post to X on Tuesday, writing, “A higher court in Canada has ruled that the Ontario College of Psychologists indeed has the right to sentence me to re-education camp. There are no other legal avenues open to me now.”
“It’s capitulate to the petty bureaucrats and the addle-pated woke mob or lose my professional licence. Congratulations, @CPOntario! You won this round. Mark my words, however: the war has barely started. There is nothing you can take from me that I’m unwilling to lose. So watch out. Seriously. You’ve been warned,” continued Peterson.