McMaster is the centre of controversy after a protest disrupted a debate-turned-lecture by University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson.
Originally, a group called Overcome the Gap planned a four-person debate featuring Jordan Peterson and three McMaster professors. The discussion was supposed to be centred around freedom of speech and political correctness.
Peterson, a clinical psychologist, has become a controversial figure after stating that he would not address students with gender-neutral pronouns in September. He has also been a vocal critic of Bill C-16, a federal bill outlawing discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Peterson believes the bill is a threat to free speech.
The director of political action, Hadhy Ayaz, with OTG told CBC Hamilton that two of the McMaster professors “mentioned receiving critical emails and he believes that’s what discouraged their participation.”
Another professor believed there was a lack of security for the event and declined to go.
The event was held on March 17, scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. When the lecture hall opened, people flooded the room, including protesters.
Air horns and megaphones disrupted the talk, forcing Peterson to move outside to finish his lecture. The protesters followed and the lecture finished after about 20 minutes.
Many criticized McMaster University on social media for not providing more security for the talk, but Mac defended their decision in a statement to CBC Hamilton.
“Had there been concerns about personal safety, we are confident that our security officers would have taken appropriate action,” said Gord Arbeau, spokesperson for McMaster.
Prior to the event, the President’s Advisory Council on Building an Inclusive Community condemned the event via press release. They argued that “there is little to be gained by debating Dr. Peterson because he presents no argument founded on evidence that would actually be worthy of debate.” Peterson responded to this via Twitter, challenging the “PACBIC cowards” to a debate.
Protesters from Revolutionary Student Movement – Hamilton and McMaster Womanists allege they were “verbally and physically harassed by attendees” and were “targeted with transmisogynistic slurs [and threats]” and also say there were “physical confrontations.”
The events have made headlines in a handful of national mainstream media outlets. In the Toronto Sun, Peterson said “this was by far the most contentious event that I’ve been to.” The National Post picked up the story as well.
Following the McMaster event, Peterson headed to London to speak at Western University. The university planned extra security but the only protesters were people who actually supported the controversial professor.
McMaster University President Patrick Deane wrote an open letter to the community following the event, providing reasons why the university has not condemned the speaker or shut down the lecture despite some calls for that.
“Taking the opportunity to listen to a speaker, even one with whom one may vehemently disagree, is an important aspect of education and a cornerstone of academic debate. It has not, therefore, been my approach, nor that of this University, to intervene to shut down events, exclude speakers, or prevent discussion of issues, even where controversial topics are under discussion,” Deane wrote.
He also wrote that the university supports trans- and gender-non-conforming members of the community.