Jordan Peterson, an Ontario psychologist, recently launched a legal challenge against the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
Last year, the College of Psychologists of Ontario sought disciplinary action against Jordan Peterson. Specifically, the organization ordered the controversial psychologist to undergo “remedial social media training” – and, if he failed to complete the training, he risks having his licence revoked.
The College of Psychologists of Ontario’s disciplinary action was brought in the wake of controversial Tweets and comments made by Jordan Peterson, which included commentary ranging from Canadian politics to the 2022 Freedom Convoy.
Rather than undergo the mandatory training, Mr. Peterson is challenging the decision in Ontario’s Divisional Court, claiming that their decision infringes his right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
What is the College of Psychologists of Ontario?
The College of Psychologists of Ontario (the “College”) monitors and regulates the practice of psychology in Ontario. The College receives and investigates complaints from the public and, when appropriate, can refer allegations of professional misconduct to a disciplinary committee that can impose sanctions, practice restrictions, or training on members.
The College of Psychologists of Ontario’s Decision
The College of Psychologists of Ontario’s disciplinary action against Jordan Peterson stemmed from the psychologist’s controversial comments on social media. The comments outlined in the College’s report range from statements made toward political figures to criticism of COVID-19 mandates. The report also relied on transcripts from an episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” which Jordan Peterson appeared on.
As a result of Jordan Peterson’s comments on social media, members of the public filed complaints with the College of Psychologists of Ontario. Following an investigation, the College determined that Jordan Peterson’s behaviour on social media amounted to professional misconduct. Specifically, the College determined that his behaviour could be reasonably regarded as “disgraceful, dishonourable and/or unprofessional” and posed a moderate risk to the public.
As a result, the College of Psychologists ordered that he undergo continuing education with a media coach.
Jordan Peterson Seeking Judicial Review of the College’s Decision
Rather than proceeding with continuing education, Jordan Peterson is now seeking judicial review of the College of Psychologists of Ontario’s decision.
What is Judicial Review?
When an individual seeks to challenge the decision of an administrative tribunal, they may bring an application to the court seeking judicial review of the decision, asking the court to determine whether an administrative tribunal’s decision was appropriate. In Ontario, such reviews are typically heard in Divisional Court, but in some cases, they may be heard at the Superior Court of Justice.
For more information on judicial review, see our recent blog posts on the standard of review and procedural fairness in Ontario administrative law.
Why is Jordan Peterson Seeking Judicial Review?
Jordan Peterson filed an application for judicial review which outlines his arguments against the College of Psychologists of Ontario’s decision.
At its core, Jordan Peterson argues that the College of Psychologists of Ontario is attempting to discipline him for making public statements unrelated to the practice of psychology. He further argues that this disciplinary action – stemming from comments he made unrelated to his work as a psychologist – unduly infringes on his right to free expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Freedom of Expression is Protected Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Freedom of expression is a fundamental freedom protected by section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This section provides that everyone has “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”
Jordan Peterson Argues That the College’s Decision Infringes His Right to Freedom of Expression
Jordan Peterson makes arguments in his application relating to freedom of expression, summarized as follows:
- his public statements were made outside of the practice of psychology and are unrelated to his work as a psychologist. Therefore, the College’s decision to discipline him for making these statements amount to an unreasonable limitation on his freedom of expression; and
- the College’s decision to discipline Jordan Peterson will have an “unacceptable chilling effect” on freedom of expression.
Beyond Jordan Peterson’s claims regarding the decision infringing on his freedom of expression, among other things, he argues that the grounds of the College’s decision were unfounded. Specifically, he argues that the statements were brought to the College’s attention not by patients or colleagues, but by members of the public who objected to the opinions provided.
The Ontario Divisional Court Will Decide Whether the College’s Decision Was Appropriate
At this time, the Ontario Divisional Court has not yet decided on Jordan Peterson’s application. However, if the Divisional Court determines that the College’s decision infringed on Jordan Peterson’s Charter rights, or was otherwise unreasonable or incorrect, the decision will be set aside and the administrative tribunal will be directed to hear the case again while avoiding the previous errors made.
In some cases, the court may substitute its own decision instead of sending the case back to the administrative tribunal for further review.
Can Professionals Be Disciplined for Social Media Posts?
The College’s disciplinary action against Jordan Peterson is unique given his well-known (and sometimes controversial) position in popular culture. However, professionals must ensure that they remain mindful of their professional obligations when posting on social media. Issues ranging from confidentiality to breaches of professional codes of ethics can easily arise through thoughtless social media use. In any case, posting offensive or inflammatory information on social media can be damaging to a professional’s reputation.
If you have questions or concerns regarding appropriate social media use in your profession, it is best to consult with your governing regulatory body. Codes of Ethics and other resources can help guide your social media use. If you are facing disciplinary action for comments you’ve made online or on other mediums, speak with a professional negligence lawyer for further guidance.
Contact the Professional Negligence Lawyers and Litigators in Oakville for Advice on Professional Liability and Judicial Review Claims
At Campbells LLP, our professional liability team is composed of exceptional advocates with significant litigation experience. We will persuasively represent your interests in all negotiations, mediations, and hearings that take place, and ensure that your rights, reputation, and ability to practice in your field are protected.
The lawyers at Campbells LLP are thorough, efficient, and focused on delivering the best possible outcome for every client. We work hard to resolve your professional liability matter effectively and efficiently while minimizing unnecessary stress. Contact us online or call us at 905-828-2247.