Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, on a speaking tour of Canada this week addressing political correctness and freedom of speech, found herself silenced Tuesday when organizers canceled a speech at the University of Ottawa after deciding it was too risky to stage the event.
Miss Coulter’s Tuesday speech — the second of three planned across the country — was called off after raucous demonstrations involving about 2,000 people outside the speaking hall and an evacuation of the University of Ottawa building when someone triggered a fire alarm. The event was cancelled shortly after 8 p.m. — before Miss Coulter even had a chance to speak.
“It’s a public-safety issue,” Sgt. Dan Beauchamp told reporters in Ottawa.
When reached Tuesday night by The Washington Times, Miss Coulter said “this has never happened before” in all her years of public speaking, which have included frequent pickets and a couple of attempted pie attacks.
But she came out swinging, denouncing the University of Ottawa as a “bush league” institution.
“I go to the best schools, Harvard, the Ivy League and those kids are too intellectually proud” to threaten speakers. At the University of Ottawa, “their IQ points-to-teeth ratio must be about 1-to-1,” she said.
The outspoken Miss Coulter had already sparked controversy on the tour when she all but dared Canadian authorities to try to muffle her under the nation’s anti-hate codes, which have been criticized on both sides of the border as stifling free thought and free speech, particularly from conservatives. Her tour is formally titled Political Correctness, Media Bias and Freedom of Speech.
Before Miss Coulter’s arrival in Canada, Francois Houle, the University of Ottawa’s provost and academic vice president, sent her a letter reminding her of Canada’s “reasonable limits on freedom of expression,” and the possibility of “criminal charges,” an action Miss Coulter openly criticized.
“I hope they do try to prosecute me,” Miss Coulter told host Michael Coren on his self-named TV show on the family-oriented CTS network.
After the cancellation, Miss Coulter blamed Mr. Houle, saying “I’ve been scheduled to give three speeches in Canada. And guess which one I couldn’t? The same one where the university sends me a warning. I think we have an excellent hate-crimes case” against the provost, whose name she said “in English, Frank A-Hole.”
Even before Tuesday’s events, the conservative firebrand diva had tried to turn the tables on Mr. Houle, accusing him of prejudice and fomenting hate against conservatives.
“The provost simply believes and is publicizing his belief that conservatives are more likely to commit hate crimes in their speeches. Not only does this promote hatred against conservatives, but it promotes violence against conservatives,” she told the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.
She gave her first speech Monday, at the University of Western Ontario in London, and gave what Mr. Coren called a “standard Ann” speech criticizing liberals, gay-rights activists, the mainstream media and the Obama administration.
At the speech, a Muslim girl took offense to what she called Miss Coulter’s suggestion that if Muslims can’t fly on planes because of anti-terrorist profiling, that she could take a camel. Fatima Al-Dhaher told Canadian media that she felt she had been stabbed in the heart, which Mr. Coren found to be an overreaction.
“The people who actually stab you are those Muslims who throw acid in women’s faces if they do not cover their heads, who deny them basic health care and education, who forcibly circumcise them, who make them walk behind men and cover themselves, who murder their daughters if they date non-Muslims, who blow up aircraft and schools, who decapitate young Christian Indonesian girls on the way to class,” Mr. Coren wrote in his blog, Coren’s Comment.
Canadian lawyer and free-speech activist Douglas Christie said free speech in his country is limited by Canada’s criminal code, which allows for the punishment of those that publicly promote hatred against any identifiable group. Identifiable groups are defined as “any section of the public distinguished by color, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.
He said the rule creates a double standard since prosecutions typically happen of speech opposing liberal opinions.
“There’s really no restriction on liberal free speech,” said Mr. Christie, general counsel for the Canadian Free Speech League.
Mr. Coren also cited the issue of liberal views and expressions being more accepted in Canada, and although he said it is better than it has been in the past, “it is still overwhelmingly one-sided.”
Mr. Christie also cited a section of the Criminal Code which allows a judge to remove hate propaganda, defined as “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide or the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence, from a computer,” basically giving judges the authority to take down Web sites.
Canadian law also empowers human rights commissions at both the state and federal level to investigate claims of hate speech and refer cases to quasi-judicial tribunals that can impose fines or issue restraint orders without even the protections of criminal due process. Complaints have been filed against such conservatives as National Review columnist Mark Steyn and Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant.
Mr. Christie said free speech is necessary for citizens to be knowledgeable about all sides of issues.
“Thank God for Ms. Coulter because she sparked interest in this debate,” he said.
Miss Coulter’s visit has sparked criticism, though. Susan G. Cole, a columnist for Toronto’s weekly entertainment tabloid Now, wrote that she could not believe there was more outrage over Mr. Houle’s letter than over the invitation to Miss Coulter to speak at a Canadian university.
“Is this really the kind of discourse that university campuses should be promoting? I don’t think so. It’s a university’s responsibility to create the kind of environment where people can think and learn. Coulter’s speech does the opposite.” Ms. Cole said.
Miss Coulter has frequently been accused by liberals of fomenting hate, citing her cutting sense of humor and cracks about Islam, Mr. Obama and some of the Sept. 11 widows.