Remember the big stories in 2018 when Lindsay Shepherd and Jordan Peterson each sued Wilfrid Laurier University for millions of dollars? There was strangely little to report on for the next 4 years. That’s about to change.
Laurier recently filed an anti-SLAPP Motion.
SLAPP is an acronym for strategic lawsuit against public participation. These are a specific type of suit, ones that are brought (or alleged to have been brought) for the purpose of shutting down public discourse. Laurier’s Motion Record can be obtained from the Ontario Superior Court, and it’s interesting.
Turns out, there’s more to the story.
Lindsay Shepherd sued Laurier in 2018 for a total of $3.6 million. Among other things, she claimed that her prospective career in academia had been ruined by her experience. The suit named: (a) the school itself; (b) Nathan Rambukkana, a professor of communications studies; (c) Herbert Pimlott, also a professor of communications studies; and (d) Adria Joel, the acting manager of gendered violence prevention and support.
June 18, 2018, Jordan Peterson filed a $1.5 million suit against the same Defendants as Shepherd: (a) Wilfrid Laurier; (b) Rambukkana; (c) Pimlott; and (d) Joel. He announced it online as well, making sure there was public knowledge.
Peterson did something else, which was cited in Court papers: he admitted he brought the suit for purposes other than what was filed. He said that he wanted Wilfrid Laurier to be more careful in how they talk about people, and also, that he didn’t think they learned their lesson. These statements have the potential to haunt him later on.
Given how public the suits from Shepherd and Peterson were, the school felt compelled to respond in the same manner. They announced that they thought these proceedings — in particular, Peterson’s — were being used to stifle discussion.
What the Defendants were doing was setting up a defense under Section 137.1 of the Courts of Justice Act. This has been on the books since 2015.
Anti-SLAPP legislation exists in Ontario, and other jurisdictions — to prevent the Courts from being weaponized on issues of public interest. The Defendants were going for the argument that this is exactly what was happening with Peterson.
Peterson then decided to sue Wilfrid Laurier a second time.
Note: there is an error with the Court display. The second lawsuit is actually worth $1,750,000, not the $175,000 that is listed.
There is actually a second lawsuit on file for Jordan Peterson. It was filed September 11, 2018. He claims that Laurier’s defense (claiming he brought the initial suit to silence public discussion) amounts to further defamation. He sued again, but this time, it was only against the school itself.
Statements of Defense have been filed concerning both of Peterson’s lawsuits. The first was on August 31, 2018, and the second was on October 11, 2018.
Apparently, publicly raising an anti-SLAPP defense in a public case amounts to further defamation. It’s unclear what made Peterson think this was a good idea.
Anyhow, the university entered some of their correspondence into evidence, and it’s very interesting. All of this is available in the Motion Record. This anti-SLAPP Motion appears to only address the second lawsuit. A likely reason is that this would be a much easier target to get thrown out.
According to the correspondence submitted in the Motion Record, Laurier’s lawyers have found it strange that Peterson has apparently had prolonged health problems. After all, he has been keeping busy with:
- Authoring another book
- Hosting a podcast
- Participating in media interviews to promote his book
- Walking several miles a day
It was reasoned that if Peterson is able to do these, then he should be willing to make himself available to be questioned (deposed).
Depositions are routine in major lawsuits. They are also common in anti-SLAPP Motions. Peterson would have to swear out an Affidavit outlining the damages he suffered, and would then be subject to cross-examination. However, this apparently hasn’t happened.
One can speculate as to his motives, but it seems Peterson has bent over backwards to avoid having to testify under oath, or give evidence.
If he were to discontinue the case, it would be a huge blow to his pride. It would be far worse if his cases (either of them) were dismissed as SLAPPs. Having a Judge rule that Peterson commenced litigation to silence public discourse would destroy his reputation as a “free speech champion”.
Peterson can’t bring himself to admit what he did. But he knows the consequences of losing. Therefore, the only option may be to drag it out indefinitely. It’s worth noting that Ontario Superior Court typically dismisses cases that haven’t been set down for Trial after 5 years, unless good cause it shown. Both of his suits are well past the 4 year mark.
And what happened when Peterson sued Laurier the first time? This!
This 2018 tweet from Lindsay Shepherd is pretty comical. After suing her university for $3.6 million, Peterson decides to pile on with another $1.5 million claim. It never seemed to dawn on her that the school might try to defend itself.
By “suing her”, what Laurier actually did was file a 3rd Party Claim. This is a form of a defense, where a Defendant states that they are not responsible for alleged damages, but someone else is. In this case, the school takes the stance that Peterson should actually be suing Shepherd. They have a valid point.
She secretly recorded a private conversation, and turned it into an international story. Regardless of the nonsense in that meeting, she chose to make it public.
Shepherd’s $3.6 million lawsuit doesn’t appear to have gone anywhere either.
Free speech absolutism also doesn’t seem to be a factor. Peterson has shown he’s perfectly okay with de-platforming identitarians, who hold views he disapproves of. The above video was of Faith Goldy being disinvited to a free speech panel. It makes a mockery of the principles he claims to hold.
While Rambukkana, Pimlott and Joel acted like clowns in 2017, Peterson shouldn’t be celebrated. He has demonstrated that he’s quite willing to use the legal system as a weapon.
In the Summer of 2021, Peterson advocated for people to suspend judgement on the lockdown measures that were being implemented across the globe. Vaccine passports were implemented shortly afterwards. Gee, it’s almost as if he knew this would happen.
Despite his reputation, he’s hardly a freedom champion.
Peterson was also denounced as a limited hangout years ago for his refusal to address more complex and controversial subjects. Search “I can’t do it” for just one example of that.
But They Compared Me To Hitler….
In various interviews, Peterson never seems to tire pointing this out. Yes, it was unprofessional, and yes, inappropriate. But there comes a point where he needs to move on.
Peterson has admitted becoming extremely wealthy in the last few years. He went from being an unknown to a household name in a very short amount of time. The incident with Shepherd and Wilfrid Laurier helped immensely.
He would be hard pressed to demonstrate how that November 2017 meeting caused him damages. And remember, it was private. It only became public after Shepherd leaked the audio.
One of the things Plaintiffs in anti-SLAPP Motions must do is prove they have suffered meaningful damages as a result of the speech or expression. If they are just nominal or non-existant, such suits are supposed to be dismissed. This is probably the reason he keeps delaying the case.
This development was covered in the National Post, but the Motion Record wasn’t included.
The Motion should be heard in 2023, to dismiss the second Peterson suit.
What will happen to his first lawsuit? If this initial anti-SLAPP Motion prevails, it seems likely that Laurier will file another to get the original case thrown out. Peterson could potentially lose 2 anti-SLAPP rulings when this is over.
That said, Peterson is now a multimillionaire, so the legal fees shouldn’t be a burden.
(1) Wilfrid Laurier University Anti-SLAPP Motion Record