Calgary arts groups call on Arts Commons to cancel Jordan Peterson event in open letter
Arts Commons says it supports free speech: 'It is not our place ... to act as judge or jury'
Several arts groups in Calgary have sent an open letter to Arts Commons demanding it cancel an event involving controversial University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson later this week.
Peterson is scheduled to give a lecture at the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Friday.
The professor, who is also an author, has spoken out about Bill C-16, which provides protections for transgender Canadians. Peterson made headlines a few years ago when he criticized political correctness on university campuses and refused to use gender-neutral pronouns.
The letter has more than 400 signatures and calls on Arts Commons to cancel the event, provide better diversity training to its staff and issue a public apology.
The letter says the artists are expressing their "deep shock and disappointment" by Arts Commons' choice to host Peterson.
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"The toxic, and often violent, rhetoric touted by Peterson — whose quasi-academic ideas are misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, and racist — wholly undermines the important work that our communities have been doing," the letter read.
Several of the arts groups involved with the letter have window spaces in the Plus 15 network.
"Hosting a talk by Jordan Peterson kind of precludes the possibility of us and our community being able to work safely in that space, so that's something that we have to hold Arts Commons accountable for," said Natasha Chaykowski, the director of the Untitled Art Society.
Arts Commons responds
Arts Commons said the organization did not invite Jordan Peterson to speak — rather the event was booked by the promoter Live Nation, which selected the venue.
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In a written statement, Arts Commons said it supports free speech, which means "not censoring someone because we don't agree with what they have to say."
"We support and fight for free speech because it helps minority views, while also allowing for a robust defence by those who disagree with those or other viewpoints. We refer to the Criminal Code, because it is our duty to uphold the law. It is not our place, however, to act as judge or jury," the statement read.
According to Arts Commons, the Peterson event is sold out.
The debate around Peterson being allowed to speak reflects an ongoing conversation, and what some have described as a "culture war" where the line between free speech and oppressive speech is fiercely contested.
At times, crowds of protesters have turned out to object to Peterson being scheduled to speak at events at universities and elsewhere in Canada.
One such debate scheduled at McMaster University in Hamilton in 2017 turned into a fracas after the other debaters declined to take part, and the event became a noisy confrontation between Peterson and his critics. Ultimately, Peterson left after roughly an hour of trying to speak over and in between the activists who were there to drown him out.
In another controversy, in January 2018, the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton apologized after cancelling Peterson's rental of the venue to promote his latest book.
The theatre's executive director told CBC News that Peterson's views conflict with the theatre's values as an organization.
But the theatre had earlier said in a Facebook post that the decision reminded them "that complex issues deserve exploration and conversation, not polarization."
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With files from Jennifer Lee