When University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson posted his now notorious YouTube video spelling out his refusal to use non-gendered pronouns, activists expressed their outrage. Non-gendered people have the right to be accommodated and respected, the protests went, and Peterson must use language consistent with those rights. These objections illustrate what few activists or politicians will openly acknowledge: “Human rights” are now a zero-sum game. Giving rights to some means taking them from others.
On Thursday, the Senate passed Bill C-16, the Liberal government’s legislation that adds “gender identity or expression” to grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Bill C-16 was in part the motivation for Peterson’s video. The act applies to federal subjects (including airports, banks, the military and federally regulated industries), while equivalent provincial codes apply to remaining areas of personal and commercial activities (including most workplaces, schools, universities, hospitals and so on). Most provinces recently added the same or similar terms to their discrimination provisions.
Few Canadians realize how seriously these statutes infringe upon freedom of speech. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated, in the context of equivalent provisions in the Ontario Human Rights Code, that “refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity … will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education.”
In other words, failure to use a person’s pronoun of choice — “ze,” “zir,” “they” or any one of a multitude of other potential non-words — will land you in hot water with the commission. That, in turn, can lead to orders for correction, apology, Soviet-like “re-education,” fines and, in cases of continued non-compliance, incarceration for contempt of court. This peril is exactly what Peterson warned of in his video, for which he was mocked for scaremongering...