While Ann Coulter is making her speaking tour of Canada this week, she could face a legal issue that has not hindered her in the United States — restrictions on free speech. And her reaction? Bring it on.
She is also highlighting Canada’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 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.
The conservative firebrand-diva also turned 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.
Attempts to reach Miss Coulter on Tuesday were not successful.
Mr. Coren said Miss Coulter was not phased by the letter from Mr. Houle, which encouraged her to educate herself on speech that is acceptable in Canada before her visit.
“I’ve got a feeling the vice president is in a bit of trouble,” Mr. Coren said.
Vincent Lamontagne, media relations officer at the University of Ottawa, said Tuesday that no one was available at the school to comment on the situation.
Miss Coulter spoke at the University of Ottawa on Tuesday, the second of three speeches she has been scheduled to make in the country.
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 President Obama’s 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 womens 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 Section 319, Subsection 2, of the Criminal Code of Canada, which allows for the punishment of those that publicly promote hatred against any identifiable group. Identifiable groups are defined in Section 318 as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
He said the rule creates a double standard since prosecutions typically happen of speech opposing liberal opinions.
“We live in a country where there is a real battle for free speech,” said Mr. Christie, general counsel for the Canadian Free Speech League. “There’s really no restriction on liberal free speech.”
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 Section 320.1 of the Criminal Code, which also 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 publisher Ezra Levant.
Mr. Christie believes 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 Miss Coulter speaking 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. If I were at any of the universities where she is appearing, I would be protesting like crazy,” Ms. Cole said. “As it is, provost Houle’s letter seems to me to be fair warning. Cross the line, Ms. Coulter, and you’ll pay the legal price.”
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.