The case of Jordan Peterson v College of Psychologists of Ontario stems from an ongoing dispute over "professional penalties" imposed on Peterson by the College.
They argue Peterson made 'inappropriate' public statements on social media, although they did not relate to the practice of psychology. Those statements related to his opinion on politics, public figures, the Freedom Convoy and climate change.
According to the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), the complaints came from the public rather than the psychologist's former patients.
Regardless, the College said his social media posts constituted an ethics violation — a dereliction of the Standards of Professional Conduct. They hence ordered Peterson to complete an 'education program' to address issues regarding professionalism in public statements.
Unsurprisingly, the former practicing psychologist refused to participate in their "re-education program."
"I'm not participating in it anymore. Take my license if you must," he said. "At this point, it would be a relief."
While Peterson has not held a clinical practice since 2017, the ICRC (college investigation committee) concluded he must do 'professionalism in public statements treatment' or risk losing his license.
"I've helped perhaps millions of people with my lectures and books, etc.," he said. "But anyone anywhere can complain to the College about anything I've done and threaten my licensure, smear my reputation, and tie me up in red tape."
The College contends he poses a "moderate risk to the public" over statements made not of his practice.
"This is a classic freedom of expression case," said CCF Litigation Director Christine Van Geyn. "There appears to be growing interest in self-governing professional regulators sanctioning their members for unpopular speech."
Peterson has since brought an application for judicial review at Ontario Divisional Court challenging the constitutional validity of the Code and the Standards enacted under provincial law.
On June 21, the CCF appeared as an intervener in the Divisional Court at Osgoode Hall. They intend to argue that "professional regulators may not regulate off-duty conduct unless they can establish a clear nexus between that specific conduct and the legitimate interest of the profession."
According to a CCF release, the charity says, "Where off-duty conduct engages a Charter right, like freedom of expression, regulators have a heightened duty to ensure they have given full effect to the Charter protection."
"People in regulated professions have private lives outside of their professional roles. Any intrusion on the right of an individual to participate in public discourse, including through controversial statements in social media, must be rigorously examined to ensure that a regulator is not overstepping its mandate," added Van Geyn.
In a series of tweets, Peterson suggested these professional bodies have all been 'weaponized,' regardless of profession.
"The College of Psychologists of Ontario, by the way, is not a university or college as generally understood," he tweeted on February 16. "It is the body that governs and regulates the professional conduct of practicing clinical psychologists."
"Speech, even controversial speech, has social value," added Van Geyn. "This kind of expression should not merely be tolerated; it should be protected from unjustified state or regulatory intrusion."
"Courts must stand firm against allowing professional regulators being co-opted by activists using them to punish people who hold views or ideas they disagree with."
During Wednesday's court proceedings, the College sought a court-ordered publication ban related to specific individuals in the proceeding.
However, Van Geyn pointed out the original sealing order was obtained after Peterson tweeted out a since-deleted document with the names of proposed coaches and a College of Psychologists staff member.
The College admitted the document had redactions but said they were quickly removed and that a sealing order does not protect these individuals because their names are publicly disclosed elsewhere.
Justice Schabas acknowledged Peterson had not named them since January, asking if the College believes this constitutes a breach of the sealing order. They said 'yes,' according to Van Geyn.
Justice Krawchenko then asked if there was an agreement that the existing sealing order should continue. The College said they had not discussed it, while Peterson's Counsel supported its continuation.
Peter Hebron, counsel to Peterson for the case, argued there is no evidence people have been identified since the original sealing order or that Peterson deliberately breached court orders.
After a brief recess, the court did not order a publication ban, stating, "It's retroactive and unenforceable." However, they extended the sealing order against Peterson.