By: Hendrik van der Breggen
Canada’s Bill C16, a.k.a. Transgender Rights Bill, attempts to add gender identity and expression to human rights and hate-crime laws. Below I argue (with Jordan B. Peterson’s help) that the bill is incoherent. I also show why, logically, that’s a concern—for everyone.
Jordan B. Peterson, a psychology professor at U of Toronto and an outspoken critic of Bill C16, appeared in a Senate hearing on Bill C16. He expressed concern that the bill compels speech, and thus is a threat to free speech. He also testified to Bill C16’s incoherence—my interest here.
Peterson’s testimony correctly points out that the appropriate context of interpretation for C16 is constituted by the policies of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), as was indicated by a link at the website of the Department of Justice. (The link was later taken down, which is a discussion for another time, a discussion having to do with this question: Are Bill C16 proponents hiding something?)
In defence of C16, to refute Peterson, a senator read from OHRC policies. The OHRC clearly allows citizens not to use preferred pronouns: as an alternative we can always use the person’s chosen name. So preferred pronouns are neither necessary nor mandatory.
Significantly, however, Professor Peterson ALSO read from the OHRC policies, which just as clearly state this: “Refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper [preferred] personal pronoun constitutes gender-based harassment.”
See the contradiction? You may use a chosen name only versus you must use the chosen name AND personal pronouns.
Peterson goes on to argue for several other contradictions within the legislation or implied via OHRC policies. For example, sexual preference is immutable, which implies biological grounding, i.e., dependency on sexual identity, but also sexual identity and gender identity and gender expression are entirely independent. (For substantiation, check out YouTube: Jordan B. Peterson, Senate Hearing on Bill C16.)
So Bill C16, when interpreted correctly, is in fact incoherent.
At this juncture, a reader sympathetic to Bill C16 might respond: So what? Why is it a concern that a piece of legislation is logically incoherent? Especially if I get what I want.
Answer: Because from a set of contradictory claims, anything follows validly.
That an argument is logically valid (deductively valid) means that whenever the premises are true the conclusion must be true too. Validity means it is not possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. This is Logic 101.
If the claims that constitute a properly interpreted piece of legislation are contradictory, then these claims, when used as premises to infer some other legal conclusion—any new legal conclusion—will always constitute a deductively valid argument. Why? Because it’s not possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.
Think about it. Because it’s not possible for the premises to be true, because they’re contradictory (A and not-A can’t be true at the same time and in the same sense), this means that it’s also not possible for the premises to be true AND the conclusion false, which means that the definition of deductive validity is satisfied.
So, if Bill C16 is accepted, it provides a precedent or grounding for ANY new and weird piece of legislation—including what you might not want.
Bill C16 was accepted into Canadian law on June 19, 2017. This should be a concern for every one of us, whatever one thinks about gender identity, gender expression, and preferred pronouns.
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. Hendrik’s teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, critical thinking/ logic, and ethics. Over the past nine years, Hendrik has written (and continues to write) the newspaper column “Apologia” in which he attempts to make philosophy accessible to the general reader. Past and current installments of “Apologia” are available at Hendrik’s blog: http://apologiabyhendrikvanderbreggen.blogspot.ca/. Links to Hendrik’s other articles can be found at his faculty profile page: http://www.providenceuc.
Image: Centre Block of the Canadian Parliament buildings, photo by Saffron Blaze, via http://www.mackenzie.co