Free Speech and Political Correctness Clash at Student Protest in Ottawa

“Black trans lives matter!” “Hey hey ho ho transphobia’s got to go!” “We’re here, we’re queer, get Peterson out of here!” “Whose gallery? Our gallery!”

These were just a few of the chants shouted by protesters as they gathered outside the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa to protest ‘Exploring the Psychology of Creativity,’ featuring Dr. Jordan Peterson.

Peterson also believes that political correctness on university campuses is harmful to freedom of speech.

Peterson is a professor at the University of Toronto who has been the center of a storm of controversy lately over his views on free speech, political correctness, and his refusal to honor the correct pronouns of individuals identifying outside of the gender binary (for example, those who use the pronouns they/them or ze/zir). Peterson also believes that political correctness on university campuses is harmful to freedom of speech.

The event drew a large audience, with the auditorium filling up to its capacity of 400 people and turning a slew of others away, but it also drew a sizeable group of enthusiastic protesters.

“I’m here to support equality for all people in our city,” said Elaina Martin, one of the protestors. “To specifically tell the National Gallery that their invitation and adoration of the most notorious transphobe in our country is not acceptable to a taxpayer that lives in the city.”

The atmosphere at the protest was one of enthusiastic, unapologetic views.

Mars Ramlogan was one of the organizers of the protest, and said that marginalized voices need to be heard and prioritized, because “white men, no matter what your ideologies are, take up the space always […] and we need to start giving space to people that are trans, people of colour, Muslim folks, people with disabilities, to showcase themselves.”

“If I could say one thing to him, it would be ‘accept our existence, or expect resistance!’” Ramlogan added.

Ramlogan also said that the turnout was amazing, and that it was a testament to the community of Ottawa, “that will not stand for hate or bigotry, and we’re standing together to show each other the love and support that we all deserve.”

Another controversial view of Peterson’s is that political correctness has no place on college campuses, outlined in a video on his Youtube channel and his website.

“I don’t think political correctness is hurting free speech,” said Jasin St-Laurent, another of the protestors. “I think politically correct language is respectful language, being mindful that everyone is human and we all have rights.”

The atmosphere at the protest was one of enthusiastic, unapologetic views. It was a crowd of marginalized voices trying to drown out their oppressors, according to Ramlogan, and one of the chants, “Silence is Compliance” spoke to the beliefs of the protesters: that by allowing a man like Peterson, with his views, to speak at a national institution means that his views are still socially acceptable.

 The atmosphere inside the gallery was as full of excitement as the atmosphere outside, and it was not one of hate nor of intolerance.

On the other side of the debate were those who attended the event, including some who waited eagerly outside the packed auditorium, waiting for someone to leave so they could catch even a small part of Peterson’s talk. The atmosphere inside the gallery was as full of excitement as the atmosphere outside, and it was not one of hate nor of intolerance.

One of those standing outside the auditorium was Narayan Wagle, a Starbucks employee who “reads behavioural psychology books for fun,” he said with a laugh.

Wagle said that he was intrigued by the subject of Peterson’s lecture. He said he understood where the protestors were coming from, but that doesn’t mean the National Gallery should bar speakers on the grounds of ideology.

“It’s easy to feel like you’re being attacked when part of your character is attacked,” he said. “And the people outside, they’ve worked very hard for recognition of who they are. So I get that side of it,” he added.

Wagle does not, however, share Peterson’s views on the trans community. “I’m a live and let live guy, myself,” he said. “If using a certain pronoun is what makes someone feel safe and accepted, and it doesn’t affect me, I don’t mind at all.”

Kim Castleman and Pasquale D’Alessio, two more attendees, agreed with Wagle’s views.

“Regardless of his ideologies, Peterson is brilliant,” said D’Alessio, who had hoped to interview Peterson for ‘The Badassery Show,’ a podcast he and Castleman created about music and songwriting.

“I tried to have a conversation with them, about why they’re there—but people kept chanting and screaming and we just got cut off.”

“He’s one of the great thinkers of our time, and he should be free to speak here, especially on a topic not related to what the protestors are talking about,” D’Alessio added. “He has a right to free speech, just like they do.”

As for the protestors, D’Alessio said he felt like they were defeating their own purpose. “I tried to have a conversation with them, about why they’re there—but people kept chanting and screaming and we just got cut off.”

Christiane Vaillancourt, the organizer of the event, defended her decision to host Peterson. “He’s an expert in this area, on creativity, he’s a very reputable voice and a lot of people are interested in what he has to say,” she said in an interview.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.
Emily Payne

Emily Payne

Emily is a huge theater junkie and journalism student at Carleton university. When she's not slaving over school work, she's writing, absorbed in a newspaper, or getting outdoors with her horse, her partner, or (ideally), both.