A new law in Canada makes it illegal for people to refer to non-gender conforming persons as anything other than the pronouns they choose. Violators of the law could face jail time.
“I do believe under current Ontario law, this conversation we’re having right now is illegal,” Jordan Peterson, a tenured University of Toronto professor, said last year on a Canadian news program.
Peterson was discussing gender identity and a new Ontario law, pushed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, that would add non-gender conforming people to the Canadian Human Rights Act. According to the law, which passed on Thursday, June 15, 2017, non-gender conformity would receive the same protections given to age, gender, sexuality and race.
What this law means once enforced is unclear, but Peterson believes the law leads to a chaotic, never-ending slippery slope of self-identification.
“I think the Ontario Human Rights Commission is one of the most dangerous organizations in Canada, and if we had any sense we’d abolish it. This law recognizes ‘the individual’s objective sense of their gender.’ Currently in New York this means 51 different gender identifications are protected. Where does that stop?”
The clearest application of this law limits any sort of prejudicial act against someone who identifies as “non-gender conforming” such as hiring discrimination or anything that could encourage a “genocidal act” against non-gender conforming people; however, Peterson believes the law could also be used to punish anyone who refuses to use the gender pronouns a non-gender conforming student requests.
In a recent article on Buzzfeed, Peterson said he doesn’t intend to adhere to the law, believing C-16 (the Ontario law) makes expressing his views “illegal” and potentially a hate crime.
“I’m being required to swallow the presupposition that just because someone believes that if they would be called a new pronoun, that would improve their life,” he said. “Sorry, there’s no evidence for that. The idea is biological gender and their gender identification are disconnected. But 99.7 percent of people who are biological male or female identify as male or female.”
What this law means for Peterson, and for churches in Canada, will ultimately depend on how it is enforced by the Canadian courts. One scenario is it will be used to shield non-gender conforming people from violence; however, it could potentially levy fines, make sensitivity training mandatory, or—if the courts push for it—incarcerate anyone refusing to recognize the validity of non-gender conforming identity and pronouns.
It also means the church needs to quickly catch up to what the non-gender conforming community is saying, to see them as wounded and hurting people stamped with the imago dei, and to approach them with the same compassion Jesus showed to the marginalized “notorious sinners” around him.
It also means learning the appropriate time and place to lovingly say “go and sin no more”—even when that might be against the law.