The Opposition to Bill C-16

A little while ago, I spoke about how professor Jordan Peterson acted as a lightning rod for Canadians to express their opposition with acceptance of trans people. This opposition has reached a point where it is threatening the passage of Bill C-16, also known as the trans rights bill. In this article, I’m going to cover the opposition.

Jordan Peterson

A few months ago, professor Jordan Peterson published an incoherent rant against non-binary people and Bill C-16, invoking the Soviet Union, calling the Ontario Human Rights Commission a “particularly pathological organization”, stating that using gender-neutral pronouns would make him a “mouthpiece of some murderous ideology person’s gender identity definitions.”

In response, trans people attending the University of Toronto where the professor taught spoke out about this vitriol and demanded that trans students at the university be treated with respect. They organized a teach-in.

An immense backlash followed, not against the professor, but against the trans students. Canadians perceived the opposition to Peterson’s assertions as an affront to their freedom of speech. As I documented in that blog entry, major media outlets in Canada indicated their support for the professor, with seemingly only small queer outlets sympathizing with those on the receiving end of his words. As best as I can tell, the only acceptable response that Canadian public would have tolerated was silence on the part of trans people and no demands for the professor to treat them with respect.

Peterson spoke against Bill C-16 in his rant, stating that it would infringe on freedom of speech. The backlash picked up that narrative, making its way through the media and Parliament. What was initially about a transphobic professor and students objecting to his bigotry at one university became much much bigger.

What Bill C-16 Does

As a refresher, Bill C-16 adds “gender identity and gender expression” to the Human Rights Act and to the criminal code. You can see the full text of the bill here.

The modification to the Canadian Human Rights Act, Section 2. This is the section that explains the purpose of the Act:

2 The purpose of this Act is to extend the laws in Canada to give effect, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals 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 based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

The modification to the Canadian Human Rights Act, Subsection 3(1). This is the subsection that identifies the eligible grounds for discrimination:

3 (1) For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

The modification to the Criminal Code, Subsection 318(4). This is in the subsection that makes it illegal to advocate or promote genocide:

(4) In this section, identifiable group means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental or physical disability.

The modification to the Criminal Code, Subparagraph 718.‍2(a)‍(i). This is in the section for sentencing after an individual has been found guilty of a crime:

(i) evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression, or on any other similar factor,

The Opposition

Bill C-16 is currently in the Senate. The Senate is where the previous incarnation of this bill, Bill C-279, was killed. There is much more opposition now as a result of the lightning rod effect. According to Amnesty International, who have been involved in the effort to advance C-16, “Senators are being flooded with messages opposing” Bill C-16.

Current public exposure to Bill C-16, through Google search results, Twitter, newspapers and the media is being framed through the lens of the opposition. The focus of the opposition is around free speech and the claim that misgendering an individual would now be a hate crime.

Examples of Public Exposure to Bill C-16

A search for “Bill C-16” on Google shows, as a top result, the ad with the text “Tell Canada’s Senators that Bill C-16 Destroys Women’s Rights and Identity”

Top results on Twitter for “Bill C-16”.

Latest results on Twitter for “Bill C-16”.

Ottawa Citizen article. The article supports Peterson and highlights his opposition of Bill C-16.

National Post article showing support for Peterson and opposing Bill C-16.

The Hill, an American publication, featuring an article written by Jordan Peterson that takes aim at Bill C-16.

TV Ontario’s The Agenda, hosting a panel with Jordan Peterson. The case is made against Bill C-16 in the show on the basis of freedom of speech.

Google Trends Data on Bill C-16

Google Trends on “Bill C-16” and “Jordan Peterson”.

The chart above shows the popularity of particular Google searches over time. Two things to note. First, there’s much more interest in “Jordan Peterson” than there is in “Bill C-16”. Second, that the attention to Bill C-16, in particular it’s much publicized introduction on May 17th, 2016, is insignificant as compared to the attention it got following the Peterson affair. In other words, attention on Bill C-16 is shaped by interest in Jordan Peterson and his negative take on the legislation.

Google Trends comparison of “Bill C-16” to “Jordan Peterson”.

The chart above shows the popularity of Google searches by region, as well as showing related searches. A few things to note. First, there is interest in “Jordan Peterson” coming from the United States. Second, far more people are interested in Jordan Peterson than Bill C-16. Third, when they search for “Bill C-16” it’s in association with an interest in “Jordan Peterson”. Fourth, those with an interest in Jordan Peterson also demonstrate interest in “SJW”, which is an acronym for “social justice warrior”, a pejorative often reserved for individuals advocating for the rights of trans people and other marginalized communities.

Observations about the Opposition to Bill C-16

There’s a few things to note about the opposition.

  • Opposition is far exceeding support. The opposition is dominating Google, Twitter, newspaper editorials, and television. It is flooding Senators offices.
  • The opposition is almost entirely associated with Jordan Peterson.
  • Americans are getting involved in the opposition.
  • There is a fundamental misrepresentation of what Bill C-16 does that echoes Peterson’s alarmist and misguided take on the legislation.
  • As a result of its dominance in the media and online, the opposition is getting to frame the bill for the public. In doing so, the content and effects of the bill are being misrepresented and reduced to fear mongering around pronouns, much like previous opposition had reduced the discourse around trans rights to fear mongering about washrooms.
  • There is little interest by major media outlets in listening to trans people and presenting a more sensible review of the legislation, much less doing so without invoking Jordan Peterson. Non-binary trans people are being regularly lambasted for their pronouns in the media and the suggestion is made that Bill C-16 will restrict freedom of speech.
  • Freedom of speech appears to be the main argument made in opposition of the bill. Freedom of speech seems to be the successor to the freedom of religion argument, presenting anti-discrimination legislation as infringing on the rights of perpetrators.
  • The opposition would have been unlikely to exist in this amount had the bill proceeded through Parliament before the events surrounding Jordan Peterson. It could also die out in a year, as other lightning rod issues have. This is perhaps the most inopportune time for the bill to make its way through Parliament.

What You Can Do

Contact Senators

Here’s a list of priority Senators, provided by Amnesty International. Contact them. Let them know you support Bill C-16 and oppose the discrimination trans people face.

Opponents are reducing discourse of the bill to fear mongering around freedom of speech and washrooms. Discussions about the discrimination faced by trans people and what the bill actually does is getting sidelined. I’ve provided talking points below to assist in redirecting the discourse back to discrimination and the need for such simple anti-discrimination measures.

Talking Points – Supporting Bill
Talking Points – Addressing “Freedom of Speech” Narrative
Talking Points – Addressing “Bathroom Predator” Narrative