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In Defence of Free Speech: Ontario Teacher Stands with Dr Jordan Peterson
Chanel Pfahl’s speech from the protest at the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
On Wednesday afternoon, protestors gathered at the College of Psychologists of Ontario building on Eglinton Avenue, in Toronto, to express their outrage at the CPO’s politically motivated crackdown on comments Dr Jordan Peterson made outside of his capacity as a psychologist.
Chanel Pfahl is a Canadian teacher with her own experience being ostracized, investigated and suspended for inoffensive comments related to critical race theory in schools. She drove from Ottawa to attend. The stirring speech she delivered is written out below, and the video format follows. Have a read, or a listen!
A few years ago, while I worked as a high school teacher, I led the pride club at my school. I remember discussing with the students how we could promote inclusion - should we make some posters? Organize a fun activity? I didn’t see any reason someone would oppose this kind of thing unless they were ignorant or intolerant. My thinking was that it would positively affect that particular group of kids and it would not have any negative impact elsewhere — so why not?
When George Floyd died, I sported a “Black Lives Matter” profile picture for some time. It seemed to be the right thing to do, and I imagined this was in some way helping us to achieve a more just society.
Ironically enough, it was my criticism of BLM - or of critical race theory more broadly - that led to me being investigated by my school board not even a year later. A teacher in a private Facebook group made a post asking others to share BLM resources, and I objected to the idea, defending neutrality in the classroom. One teacher - who didn’t know me, and had never interacted with me - decided to submit a complaint. The next day at school, I was sent home with a letter informing me that the board would be investigating me. When that concluded, in March 2021, I was suspended for one week without pay. Then, in March 2022, I got notice from the Ontario College of Teachers that they also were going to investigate me for the two comments I had made over a year prior. Still waiting for all that to be done.
I still find it difficult to understand, let alone explain in some coherent way how my worldview shifted, sometime in 2020, but Jordan Peterson certainly had something to do with it. It might sound crazy, and probably also familiar to some, but throughout my six years in University I never once got exposed to a single intelligent voice with a dissenting opinion on social justice ideology. Everyone around me either agreed with it or at minimum silently went along. How nice it would have been to hear what the other side really had to say, instead of being presented with ugly caricatures. To have a professor - like Peterson - who spoke up despite the climate of political correctness and fear. I wish.
I actually remember feeling uncomfortable with the prevailing ideas at various times - like when I took a women’s studies course and felt like the professor was forcing her views on everyone - or when people I had once aligned myself with started behaving like bullies in the name of inclusion - but for a long time I felt too uninformed and intimidated to voice my disagreement.
When I finally came across people like Joe Rogan, Gad Saad, James Lindsay and Jordan Peterson in the summer of 2020- it was a complete breakthrough for me. Never before had I felt such intellectual curiosity - I must have read books and listened to podcasts for perhaps close to 8 hours a day that summer.
I think the first thing Peterson taught me, which I believe was actually fundamental to my “awakening” — if you will — is that I should be immensely grateful for the miracle of the West, and the miracle of our institutions, however imperfect they are. The fact that we have access to food, and water, and that we can coexist peacefully with others is an anomaly, historically speaking, and it is not guaranteed to last.
I started to understand, too, that I was a part of these systems, and with that came a responsibility to not blindly destroy them, but to contribute to keeping them functional. This meant doing my part to keep them aligned with the fundamental principles of a free, democratic society, like free speech, equality and truth.
So I had to speak the truth — even when it was unpopular (which meant pretty much all the time). I allowed myself to have faith in the process. I decided that no matter where speaking the truth led me, I would face it voluntarily, and not live my life as a coward. Anything was better than selling my soul, and not speaking when I had something to say. Because I know where that leads.
Whether we are talking about the Holocaust or the Gulags of the Soviet Union, historically, atrocities have occurred largely because not enough people have stood up and spoken their minds - they were too afraid - which allowed for very bad ideas to propagate, while also reinforcing our tribalistic nature: that us vs them mindset.
The Nazis didn’t just come out one day with murderous plans to exterminate the Jews. It was a long process; it started small. The Jews were increasingly linked to monetary power, and seen as wanting world domination. Then, they were blamed for the WW1 defeat in Germany. The prejudice they faced got worse and worse, incrementally. In a time of economic collapse after the war, people were seeking hope and safety. The Nazis capitalized on the prevailing prejudice to get into power, and their ideas grew increasingly radical. At one time, you might have been ostracized for being a Jew - or for defending Jews - or faced job loss - and many stayed quiet. Years later you faced unspeakable suffering and death. Why didn’t people speak up when they knew it was wrong, in the early stages? The same can be asked of people today.
Having white skin is now supposed to mean someone is guilty of some kind of original sin, colour blindness is racism, children are being sterilized and mutilated in the name of “gender affirmative care”, women are losing their right to single sex spaces. Even speaking the truth about the leading cause of death in residential schools — tuberculosis — is now enough to get teachers suspended (see BC teacher Jim McMurtry’s case). Why can’t we learn that individuals going along with lies - staying quiet - appears to be a necessary precondition for totalitarian shifts, and the suffering and violence they bring?
In North Korea, they divided the population based on land ownership. Not from one day to the next, but after years and years of increasing resentment for those who were better off. Many of the people had good intentions: they strived for equity. It was seen as unfair that certain people had land and others didn’t. Wasn’t everyone entitled to the same outcome?
They were eventually divided into groups based not only on whether they had land, but whether their ancestors did, and how loyal they were to the government. Individual rights were disregarded because group identity had become paramount. Look where that country is today — living in unimaginable poverty, with no freedom whatsoever. The road to hell can very easily be paved with good intentions.
In Venezuela, it was the poor vs the rich. Resentment and polarization grew over years and years, and having money increasingly indicated moral failure. A politician came in and tapped into that with promises of wealth distribution and equity for all. That is not what happened. Today, about 95% of Venezuelans live in absolute poverty, in abysmal conditions.
In Canada today, it is just a different version of the same story. Narratives about the world being made up of oppressors and the oppressed, based on race, sexuality and gender, have been rapidly gaining traction, and many are terrified to speak up.
I want to suggest to you though, that not speaking up might be the more dangerous option in the long run. We need an army of truth tellers - like Peterson - who will not only stand up for him and support him anonymously, but who will stand proudly and tell the truth in their own lives. I believe the future of our country depends on it, actually, and I hope the College of Psychologists will recognize that attempts to control Jordan Peterson’s speech with threats to revoke his license for voicing his opinions is wrong. There is no democracy without dissent. Thank you for listening.
The video of Pfahl giving her speech can be found below (starts at 48 min):
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