The decision for Calgary’s Arts Commons to host controversial author and academic Jordan Peterson for a talk this week has sparked anger among some of his opponents.
Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, has made headlines in Canada and across the world as some have accused him of promoting racist and homophobic ideas. He was opposed to Bill C-16, which defends transgender people from discrimination under the Criminal Code.
Some of his speaking engagements have been protested in the past, most recently at Queen’s University in Kingston in March and at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre in January.
As many as 600 people have signed an open letter pleading with Arts Commons to cancel Peterson’s event, scheduled for July 27.
Peterson responded to the open letter Wednesday evening after Global News made a for request for comment.
“It is amazing to see such serious accusations levelled, casually, without adducing a shred of supporting evidence,” he said in an emailed statement.
“And then to see entirely specious ‘safety’ concerns added to the list — all in the attempt to block an event that several thousand people clearly wish to attend.”
Peterson said that nearly 200,000 people have already come to see him “with no danger, and very little controversy.”
Some who signed the open letter said while there are no protests planned, they don’t think Arts Commons is the venue that should be hosting the talk.
“In the end, I’m disappointed,” Stride Gallery Director Areum Kim said.
“They need to think about who is using the space and working in that space, presenting work in that space. Even though they are a venue and an arts organization, they also represent the artists that work there.”
LISTEN: Sue Ying Strang of The New Gallery explains what was behind the letter to Arts Commons
Arts Commons said in an emailed statement that it’s the right of any person to express concerns and it welcomes conversation, but ultimately said the show will go on as it’s a matter of free speech.
“Freedom of speech means not censoring someone because we don’t agree with what they have to say,” spokesperson Johann Zietsman said.
“We value diversity and if you look at our list of events, you will see that we have events from all corners of our society represented.
“We support and fight for free speech because it helps minority views, while also allowing for a robust defense by those who disagree with those or other viewpoints.”
Arts Commons said the event was put on by a third party.
Those who wrote the open letter said they did so not because they don’t agree with Peterson’s ideas, but are concerned that the event and its messaging may pose safety risks for those working and using the event centre.
— With files from The Canadian Press