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Joanna Baron: Jordan Peterson is too big to be silenced by the naysayers and regulators—but what about the rest of us?

Commentary

How famous is Jordan Peterson? Well, tonight Canada’s most influential living intellectual will give a lecture on his latest book not to a smattering of readers in a local library or university hall but to an enormous crowd at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre. The stop is part of Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life North American speaking tour, which is selling out arena venues across the continent. The event will proceed despite numerous community groups and activists campaigning for the event’s cancellation. Indeed, the controversy has evidently spurred even more interest.

Peterson has been found squarely in the middle of our polarized political debate since he emerged onto the public scene in the mid-2010s. The backlash to his message and public persona has been furious, and now, institutional, with the College of Psychologists of Ontario attempting to rein him in.

On May 16th, 2022, Peterson was up to his usual Twitter hijinks. He posted a salty riposte to Sports Illustrated using the plus-sized model Yumi Nu for its cover: “Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.”

I groaned. Clearly, the model, with her smouldering features, waist-to-hip dimensions, and luscious dark locks, was beautiful. It was gross in any event to witness a 60-year-old man publicly negging a twenty-something in a bikini—kind of like your dad telling you he doesn’t find your friend hot.

But just like a hammer for which everything looks like a nail, for Peterson, who is truly obsessed with the atrocities of the Soviet era, everything in modern culture can be read as an attempt at indoctrinating ideology. This ranges from the plausible (COVID mandates and the Trudeau government’s heavy-handed response to the Freedom Convoy) to the preposterous (featuring a beautiful woman whose body represents the average American’s, rather than a beautiful woman with a figure unachievable by 99.999 percent of the population, on a magazine cover).

The registrar of the College of Psychologists concluded that the statements posed a “moderate risk” to the public and announced that they would require him to submit to a mandatory coaching program, even prior to the disciplinary hearing.

The creep of progressive politics into regulatory bodies is now a Canada-wide phenomenon. In 2016, the Law Society of Ontario adopted a poorly drafted requirement that lawyers and paralegals adopt a self-authored Statement of Principles outlining their personal commitment to promoting diversity and equality in their practice. This immediately raised both philosophical and practical questions. Philosophically, it would appear to be an instance of compelled speech, since it required active assertion of a prescribed message on the part of licensees. Practically, it raised questions of how, exactly, a lawyer in private practice could “promote equality and diversity” in her daily activities. (The Law Society promptly elected a slate of benchers at their next election who ran on the sole platform of repealing the Statement of Principles.)

And during the pandemic, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario demonstrated a myopic and iron-fisted approach to regulating the speech of its members. In April 2021, the CPSO adopted a policy that strictly forbade doctors from criticizing lockdowns or school closures (despite the fact that well-respected epidemiologists and physicians across the world had openly expressed skepticism) and threatened its members with fines and disciplinary action for failure to adhere with these rules.

More recently in B.C., the medical profession is reeling over the hastily-passed Health Professions and Occupations Act, which allows the government to appoint college board members who are granted broad discretion to regulate all areas of one’s existence as well as to publicize all complaints against medical professionals.

This brings us to the Peterson matter.

Peterson is challenging the constitutionality of several of the College’s codes of ethics, standards of professional behaviour, and by-laws that permitted it to order him to submit to mandatory coaching and training. (There has been some confusion about why the Charter applies to a regulatory body. Since the College is empowered by statute as a self-governing body, its actions must be Charter-compliant). He claims that the relevant provisions of the College’s Code of Ethics are contrary to the Charter’s s. 2(b) guarantee of freedom of expression. He also asks for an order restraining the College from regulating its members’ otherwise lawful speech which is unrelated to the practice of psychotherapy.

The College is limited by its statutory mandate to matters which relate to the practice of psychology. It’s difficult to see how, even to the least informed casual observer, a non-practicing psychologist’s tweets about politics and culture could be seen to threaten the public perception of the discipline.

Moreover, this isn’t Peterson’s first rodeo with the College. In 2020, a decision was rendered in response to a complaint about Peterson tweeting articles very much of the same ilk as those impugned in the current complaint, like posting an article titled “The Transgender Movement Targets Autistic Children” and tweeting that Justin Trudeau is a “virtue-signalling ideological puppet.”

In the result, the College concluded that the tweets posed a “low risk” to the public and that “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees rigorous debate, and therefore protects Dr. Peterson’s public pronouncements so long as he does not violate provincial or federal laws.” The decision concluded with a milquetoast suggestion that Peterson “may wish to offer [his] comments in a respectful tone.” It appears highly arbitrary, and dependent upon the whims of the individual sitting registrar, that this time they have arrived at the opposite conclusion on a very similar body of evidence.

It’s hard not to discern more than a trace of tall poppy syndrome here. Peterson is Canada’s most famous public intellectual since Marshall McLuhan, with the most popular Canadian-produced podcast and YouTube channel in the country by a country mile, bestselling books, and an ability to sell out huge venues across the country for public debates. The College’s investigation and the clarion calls to cancel his public speaking events have served as a signal boost for him, and whatever the outcome of this matter, it’s safe to say he’ll be fine—it is hard to argue the naysayers have been able to diminish the reach of his message.

It’s not Peterson, then, but the rest of the profession who will observe this affair and soft-pedal their expression accordingly that we ought to be concerned about. Where professional regulators can step far out of their wheelhouses and impose penalties for lawful speech, our public discourse is necessarily truncated.

Richard Shimooka: Canada can help Ukraine in better ways than sending tanks

Commentary

Yesterday, the Government of Canada announced that it intended to send four Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as part of an allied effort to rush modern capabilities to the battlefield. The decision has been marked by significant debate over the past few weeks surrounding whether, and how many, tanks should be provided by Ottawa, their utility in modern warfare, and the state of the Canadian Armed Forces’ combat capability. These are all issues worth unpacking.

It is important to understand that Canada’s army is built around an expeditionary concept of operations. Canada has no real direct threat to its land territory. The force structure is built around deploying and sustaining a mechanized brigade group (about 5,000 troops) outside of Canada. This includes artillery, infantry, support, and armoured vehicles. This approach was designed to sustain foreign operations, as typified by operations in former Yugoslavia or Afghanistan.

While there was a short-lived plan to replace Canada’s tanks with the Stryker Mobile Gun System (essentially a wheeled Light Armoured Vehicle III with a 105mm gun mounted on top) in the early 2000s, it was quickly discovered that conventional tanks continued to have utility on the battlefield—they provided a unique direct-fire capability to accurately hit defended positions in the Kandahar valley and could also shrug off attacks that would damage or disable other platforms. 

While there has been an extended commentary about the utility of tanks in modern warfare, they remain an integral part of any army’s force structure. They combine a synthesis of mobility, protection and firepower that can have decisive effects on a battlefield when used properly.

Canada’s armoured force design is also built around the expeditionary operations model, where the intent is that Canada could permanently deploy a squadron of around 20 tanks, which the total number of 82 then sustains. At any one time, a large number are undergoing routine maintenance or upgrades, which leaves only a few available for operations. There are also different versions of the tank in Canadian service, which roughly correspond to their intended role. First, Canada has 42 Leopard 2A4s that are largely used for training. These are the least capable version in Army service, and see the hardest usage of the entire fleet. Comments by the Chief of Defence Staff suggest that the four tanks that are to be sent to Ukraine come from this sub-fleet. The remaining 40 tanks are equally split between more heavily armoured 2A4M and 2A6M tanks. These two versions, which differ in the main gun they employ, are primarily used for foreign deployments as they are more capable than the standard 2A4. This arrangement worked relatively well in the past. However, there are two significant problems.

First, Canada’s armoured corps is currently in a relatively mediocre state. This is partly the result of manning levels and the geographic distribution of bases, which has detrimentally impacted the army’s ability to sustain a tank squadron. As such, it might not be able to deploy and sustain 20 tanks. This is a story that is extremely common across the CAF. The CF-18s and Halifax class-frigates are similarly highly constrained in their operations by the lack of personnel. In addition, the Leopard 2 fleet also requires an inordinate amount of time to maintain, and spare parts are hard to come by in Canada. Many European countries also have similar issues; the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon fighter, for instance, has been plagued by parts problems and high maintenance time. The current situation facing Canada’s Leopard tanks should be seen as a lesson for policymakers in Ottawa to get their respective house in order. 

Second, while this force structure is lean and efficient under normal circumstances, Canada has little excess capacity to sustain losses or provide tanks to Ukraine without harming readiness. Four tanks are likely the most that the Canadian Army can provide immediately without harming its ability to train personnel. While providing more tanks to Ukraine further mires Russia’s forces in the conflict and supports Canada’s security interests, one cannot ignore the potential for direct escalation between Russia and NATO, regardless of the number of Leopards that are sent. The CAF already maintains an enhanced forward presence in Latvia, and a key contingency the army must plan for is to reinforce that unit. Canada’s tanks would be a key part of any force, particularly considering they are the army’s main system to defeat enemy tanks. The four tanks the CAF is donating come from the most numerous but least capable versions—their loss should not appreciably impact the future readiness of the armoured corps. However, the provision of additional vehicles may increasingly have consequences for the army. 

Canada would also not be able to reliably replace such tanks. Leopard production has been relatively low, with the majority of work surrounding refurbishing old tanks into new models. Thus, donating any number will likely result in a permanent loss of combat power, at least for the foreseeable future. 

Canada may not have a surplus of Leopards, but European countries do possess substantial reserves of the tank. During the Cold War, our European allies maintained a large standing and reserve forces in the event the conflict ever became hot. They maintained significant numbers of tanks in reserve storage, even as many of these states converted their militaries towards the expeditionary model by the 1990s. As such, many of them have dozens if not hundreds of Leopards that could be donated to Ukraine without the same pernicious effects on their force structure compared to Canada. Unofficial tallies about potential donations from countries like Spain and Finland illustrate this. 

Instead of Leopards, a more prudent course of action would be for Ottawa to provide capabilities that it can sustain and reliably deliver for the length of the conflict. Canada has already provided 39 Armoured Combat Support Vehicles (ACSVs), built by General Dynamic Land Systems in London Ontario on the LAV6 Chassis. While certainly not as flashy as the Leopard 2 tank, vehicles such as these provide a valuable combat capability within a modern combat team. They are better than the Ukrainian Army’s current system in that role, the Soviet-era BTR-80. As a Canadian product, Ottawa can control a number of variables to maximize its effectiveness in Ukrainian service—this includes the provision of spare parts, complex repair work, and training. 

However, obtaining additional ACSVs or similar types will require Ottawa to get creative. The 39 vehicles donated last summer were awaiting acceptance into the Canadian Army, but no more surplus vehicles currently exist. Some options include diverting existing Canadian or other allies’ orders to Ukraine or expanding production lines. While developing such an option requires significant negotiation and out-of-the-box thinking in Ottawa, it would be a valuable contribution to Ukraine’s ultimate peace and security.