University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson is taking legal action against Wilfrid Laurier University after a T.A. was criticized for showing a YouTube clip of him.
Petersen – a psychology professor whose contentious views have been protested across the country – and his lawyer, Howard Levitt of Levitt LLP, are suing the school and three faculty members for defamation worth $1.5 million.
The claims, which haven’t been proven in court, say comments made in a closed meeting were defamatory and intended to discredit Peterson.
Peterson’s controversial views on the use of gender pronouns for trans-people became the subject of a free speech debate at Laurier after T.A. Lindsay Shepherd showed a video clip of him during a class tutorial.
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Shepherd’s case came to light after she came forward with a recording of a meeting between her and three faculty members, who said playing the Peterson clip created a toxic environment in the classroom.
Shepherd secretly recorded the meeting, and has since made the recording public.
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Comments in the meeting included a comparison of Peterson’s speech to Hitler, and a comparison of his opinion to that of an anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-women white supremacist. They also called him “academically suspect” and said he exhibited “charlatanism,” according to the unproven Statement of Claim.
Despite the fact that the meeting was private, Peterson and his lawyers allege the faculty should have known the content of the meeting could have lasting consequences.
“Although the individual Defendants did not personally disseminate and broadcast it further… they could have reasonably anticipated that … [Shepherd] would inform others of what had occurred,” the statement reads.
Officials from Laurier say they will “vigorously defend” against the claim.
“Laurier remains committed to intellectual inquiry, critical reflection, scholarly integrity, academic freedom and freedom of expression while striving to be a supportive and inclusive community,” a statement from the University read.
The two professors named in the suit did not reply to a request for comment from Global News, nor did the Diversity and Equity office, of which the third individual was an employee.
Earlier this month, Levitt also filed a $3.6 million lawsuit on behalf of Shepherd against the same people – saying the school behaved negligently, leaving her unemployable in academia.
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Officials at Laurier, who have already issued a public apology to Shepherd, have also vowed to defend the lawsuit.
Peterson’s views have been protested during a book tour across the country. In Edmonton, a theatre declined to host Peterson, while in Toronto, a woman was arrested while protesting his event.
In 2017, The Globe and Mail reported Peterson spoke out at a Senate committee hearing against Bill C-16, legislation aimed at enshrining the rights of transgender people in Canada.
He argued the bill could infringe on freedom of expression and said that both support for the legislation and the belief that biology does not determine gender “stem from the humanities and are entirely ideologically driven.”
In November, the University of Toronto’s student newspaper — The Varsity — reported that hundreds of people had signed an open letter calling for Peterson’s termination from the institution. Among the grievances cited in the letter were the transgender pronoun controversy as well as a video he uploaded to YouTube in which he suggested men can’t control “crazy women” because men are not allowed to physically fight them.
*With files from Phil Heidenreich
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