Toronto seems to be the epicentre of the culture wars. On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marched, with his wife and his two eldest children (aged 8 and 9), in Toronto’s Pride Parade. He wore a maple leaf Pride tattoo on his cheek and rainbow socks.
The city is also home to Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and the figurehead of campaigns against a proposed amendment to the Human Rights Act, Bill C-16, which aims to make “gender identity and expression” a prohibited ground of discrimination. Peterson says this could result in prosecutions of people who disagree with some claims about gender – who, for instance, believe that biology determines gender, or who refuse to use “gender-neutral pronouns” like “they” and “zi” as a replacement for “he” and “her”. The bill’s defenders say that it is just a defence for a community which suffers high levels of violence, mental illness and discrimination in areas such as applying for jobs. It is, they say, about securing liberties, not removing them.
We may soon discover who is right, because last week C-16 passed into law. “Compelled speech has come to Canada,” said Peterson, whereas Trudeau called it “great news”. The dispute has broader implications, because Canada seems to be leading the way in political correctness. But the meaning of the bill is much debated.
C-16 develops an already controversial piece of legislation. Canada’s Human Rights Act, passed in 1977, gives an impressively distilled statement of liberal ideology: it defends the principle that “all individuals” should have equal opportunity “to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices”.
These “discriminatory practices” could be based on a list of characteristics, including gender and race, and as of last week, “gender expression” – which, in practice, means identifying as something other than one’s biological sex.
Jonathon Van Maren, communications director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, believes it is “almost certain” that the new legislation will be used to dictate what language people can use it: “These laws would not simply tell you what you cannot say, but would actually dictate what you must say.”
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection