Tension on campus continues a week after the teach-in and rally hosted by trans and non-binary activists in response to Professor Jordan Peterson’s statements on gender, and refusal to use gender neutral pronouns.
A so-called ‘rally for free speech’ was held yesterday afternoon outside of Sidney Smith Hall. The rally began with noise disruptions from protesters and ended with the presence of multiple police cruisers. The police appeared to have arrived to monitor the possibility of conflict between the rally’s attendees, and those protesting the event.
Peterson was invited to speak at the rally, as well as Lauren Southern, a commentator for The Rebel Media, a right-wing media organization, who interrupted last week’s teach-in and rally.
Speaking to The Varsity after his speech at the rally, Peterson said that he does not regret making the remarks and videos that set off the chain of events leading to the protest.
“I regret not formulating them more precisely, but the thing is, as I said before, when you first start to discuss something, you’re going to do it badly — it’s a sort of scattershot approach. I’m trying to be more precise, so no, I don’t regret it,” he said.
Members of the university’s trans and non-binary community blasted white noise through speakers as Peterson and Southern attempted to speak. Peterson eventually proceeded with his remarks without using a microphone.
Connor Johnston, a student who was present at the rally, described the scene: “They were blocking out the mics with white noise and like, trying to disrupt the whole thing. Someone tried to pull the cord a few times… They’ve been trying to get people from the other side to just talk, and they were just complaining that, instead of trying to sound out the noise, they should actually just come and give your own opinion.”
Qaiser Ali, one of the organizers of last week’s teach-in and rally who was present, told The Varsity that “the goal with the noise disruption, which is a tactic that has been used before, is not to suppress anyone’s free speech but rather not to take some speech lying down. These people were yelling homophobic slurs, transphobic slurs, referring to us as ‘things’ and ‘its’ — we were hoping to make that a little harder to hear.”
Some of the rally’s attendees provoked disruption. One man wearing a “Support Local 81” jacket — the Toronto chapter of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club — was isolated by police and later left the event to jeers. He spoke to The Varsity, saying that he was there to see Southern and Peterson because “some guy kinda told me that he didn’t want to use certain nouns or whatever.”
One attendee brought three dogs to the rally. Another man shouted, “We need more Michael Brown’s!” in reference to the 18-year old unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
There were a number of incidents of assault at the rally. One man, who asked to only be identified as Bryan, told The Varsity, “A guy came up to me and tried to grab my binder, but I wouldn’t let it go, so he pushed me. He then put his hands around my neck until Campus Police came and separated us.”
Johnston also told The Varsity that there was “a small brawl” involving Southern and spectators, and Southern’s microphone was taken away.
Partway through the rally, the fire alarm was pulled inside Sidney Smith Hall, causing students to evacuate the building and onto the street until the Fire Department came and gave the all clear.
The Black Liberation Collective (BLC) was also present at the event, and engaged in a number of interactions with free speech activists. Before attending the rally, the group held a demonstration at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).
Roxane, a student who was protesting the rally as an independent dissenter, shared her feelings on the intentions of the rally. “I think [it was about] holding up standards of white supremacy and I think that a lot of arguments were steeped in fear, which was really concerning for me,” she said. “I think that this forum dissolved really quickly into speaking to people’s fear and vulgarities rather than articulating themselves and articulating their arguments.”
The rally came to a close when the audio equipment failed and police intervened in apparent escalating conflict.
With files from Jaren Kerr
Editor’s note: A statement that rally attendees wore a German Iron Eagle, which is associated with Nazism, has been removed following reader input that it may have been mistaken for a different cultural symbol. The Varsity regrets the oversight.