2016 Villain: Dr. Jordan Peterson
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2016 Villain: Dr. Jordan Peterson

Nominated for: waging a pointless crusade against preferred pronouns.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Shortly after the start of the 2016–17 academic year, U of T professor and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson uploaded to his YouTube channel the first of a three-part video series entitled “Professor Against Political Correctness.” For nearly two-and-a-half hours, Peterson vented about everyone and everything even tangentially related to “political correctness,” from the Ontario Human Rights Commission to the LGBTQ community, from the Black Liberation Collective to human-resources departments everywhere.

His cri de cœur was prompted by two developments: first, the introduction of Bill C-16, an amendment to federal law that would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination, and second, a new policy by the university’s human-resources department mandating anti-discrimination training for all staff.

Peterson would not fare well in such a seminar. He refuses to call non-binary people by their preferred pronouns, a common courtesy that would soon become law. Bill C-16 would make his refusal to refer to a person by the personal pronoun of their choice a form of harassment, for which he could be held legally liable.

A report about his comments by the student newspaper The Varsity was picked up by national and international media, and in short order, caused a frenzy on campus. The dean of the faculty of arts and sciences asked that Peterson please stop repeating his outlandish statements. Instead, in October, Peterson held a defiant rally on the steps of Sidney Smith Hall, where his supporters hurled transphobic slurs and counter-protestors flung glitter.

Since then, Peterson has relished the attention that comes with being a very minor celebrity of the alt-right. He updates his YouTube channel almost daily, and seems to refuse no comers in the press. He has aligned himself with fellow transphobic hate-mongers such as Gavin McInnes and Lauren Southern, both with the Breitbart-esque Rebel media network. The annual revenue from his crowdfunding campaign now exceeds his $162,000 he earns as a tenured professor.

But what is most galling about Peterson and his crusade is the pointlessness of it all. Peterson did not teach last term, and when he posted his first video, Bill C-16 had not yet passed. He admits that he has never been asked by a student or co-worker to use one of the diverse pronouns he objects to so vigorously.

Yet as a result of his campaign, the atmosphere on campus has darkened. Toronto Police confirmed they were investigating a rash of violent online threats made against transgender people at the university. Like Donald Trump, Peterson has honed a dangerous screed against “political correctness” and used it court the ignorant and the hateful, emboldening them to come out into the open.