TORONTO — Controversial professor and author Jordan Peterson is suing an Ontario university and three of its staff for defamation over remarks allegedly made when a teaching assistant was disciplined for showing a video of him to her class.
Peterson, a University of Toronto psychology professor who has gained international attention for his views on free speech and political correctness, is asking for $1.5 million in damages for comments that were allegedly made “falsely and maliciously” by employees of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
“The defamatory statements were … designed specifically to damage his personal and professional character as a professor, author, lecturer and public intellectual,” Peterson’s unproven statement of claim alleges.
The suit alleges professors Nathan Rambukkana and Herbert Pimlott, and Laurier Equity Office staffer Adria Joel compared Peterson to Adolf Hitler and accused him of being a “charlatan,” among other things, during a private meeting with teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, who showed a video of Peterson discussing gender-neutral pronouns to her class.
The statement of claim alleges Wilfrid Laurier University “is vicariously liable for all of the conduct of the individual defendants.”
Shepherd — who filed her own lawsuit against Laurier earlier this month claiming the university behaved negligently and left her unemployable in academia after the incident — recorded the meeting and later posted the audio to Youtube, where anyone who searches Peterson’s name online could be exposed to it, Peterson’s statement of claim said.
“This has a significant impact on Peterson’s reputation among those with whom he deals, including fellow academics, future or existing students, the university where he works and those whom might read his books or listen to his lecture,” the statement of claim said.
Wilfrid Laurier University said it would fight both Peterson’s and Shepherd’s lawsuits.
“Laurier will vigorously defend against (Peterson’s) statement of claim,” spokesman Kevin Crowley said. “Laurier remains committed to intellectual inquiry, critical reflection, scholarly integrity, academic freedom and freedom of expression while striving to be a supportive and inclusive community.”
Rambukkana, Pimlott and Joel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Shepherd, then a teaching assistant in Rambukkana’s communications class, was called to a disciplinary meeting with the defendants on Nov. 2, 2017, after she showed students an excerpt of a TVOntario broadcast in which Peterson defends his opposition to gender-neutral pronouns, Peterson’s lawsuit said.
The three Laurier staffers allegedly criticized Shepherd for showing the video clip, with Rambukkana saying it was like showing the class a speech by Hitler, according to the statement of claim.
Among other defamatory statements allegedly made during the meeting with Shepherd, Peterson’s suit alleges the professors and equity office employee accused him of being unfit to be a professor, having uninformed and uneducated opinions, being a member of the alt-right, and being transphobic, homophobic, racist and sexist.
“(These comments) were disseminated widely in both social and conventional media and, in turn, by word of mouth,” Peterson claims in his suit.
“Although the individual defendants did not personally disseminate and broadcast it … they could have reasonably anticipated that, given the nature of their conduct and the position taken by Shepherd at the meeting, that she would inform others of what had occurred.”
Peterson also claims the defendants could have reasonably anticipated Shepherd would record the meeting, given how commonplace recording devices are.
“Rambukkana, Pimlott and Joel knew and intended, in making these statements, that the comments referred to above could be available, potentially widely discussed, and would damage Peterson’s reputation… now and in the future,” the lawsuit claims.
Peter Goffin, The Canadian Press