The University of Ottawa denied responsibility Wednesday for the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speech there, a claim ridiculed by the conservative commentator’s team.
Miss Coulter, in the middle of a three-speech tour of Canada titled “Political Correctness, Media Bias and Freedom of Speech,” had received a warning about Canada’s hate-speech codes and possible “criminal charges” from Francois Houle, the school’s academic vice president and provost.
Before the speech, organized by the International Free Press Society Canada and the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, the venue was picketed by about 1,000 yelling demonstrators, and student Web pages had been calling for violence against Miss Coulter. On Tuesday night, she was advised by security that her safety could not be guaranteed.
“The organizers themselves decided at 7:50 p.m. to cancel the event,” the university said in a statement posted on its Web site on Wednesday that also characterized the demonstrators as having “peacefully gathered.”
The school said it “did not at any time oppose Ann Coulter’s appearance. Whether it is Ann Coulter or any other speaker, diverse views have always been and continue to be welcome on our campus.”
Canadian lawyer-activist Ezra Levant, who was scheduled to introduce Miss Coulter at her speech, called the statement “a weak attempt at damage control” now that the school’s handling of the speech “has exploded in their face.”
“The police and security said it was not safe to proceed,” Mr. Levant said. Sgt. Dan Beauchamp of the Ottawa Police, which sent about 10 squad cars to the event, told reporters Tuesday night that “it’s a public-safety issue.”
Mr. Levant has agreed “to be Ann’s lawyer” in bringing a hate-speech claim against Mr. Houle, saying his letter helped create a threatening environment against Miss Coulter.
“The university itself helped to whip up the problem,” said Mr. Levant, who also accused school officials of being “desperate to distance themselves from Francois Houle’s outrageous letter. Note that they did not talk about their love for free speech to Ann Coulter last week - it was all about limits, ‘restraint’ and possible prosecutions. Clearly, they realize they made a gross error - and are facing a massive Canadian and international backlash.”
Mr. Levant noted that “I have some experience with human-rights panels and other similar litigation,” referring to a cases brought against him by Muslims over his printing of the Danish Muhammad cartoons and his public defenses of doing so.
In addition to hate-speech being a crime in Canada, individuals may bring charges before quasi-judicial bodies that can impose fines and censor speech. Mr. Levant taped his hearings and posted on YouTube.com and elsewhere his defenses, including denouncing the panel as cowards trying to suppress free speech in the name of a left-wing political agenda.
He said that accompanying Miss Coulter on the tour means “it’ll probably be a few days” before the first formal steps are taken.
The University of Ottawa statement said there would be no further comment.
Vincent Lamontagne, a media relations officer, did not respond to a Wednesday afternoon e-mail from The Washington Times asking him to elaborate on whether speakers should go through with their speeches if campus and/or city security tell them they cannot guarantee the speaker’s safety.
Miss Coulter will wrap up her Canadian tour with a speech Thursday at the University of Calgary where Mr. Levant, a native of Alberta and former publisher of the Western Standard magazine, confidently predicted a different reception in the oil-rich province, which he called “the Texas of Canada.”
“I think Calgarians and Albertans are more liberty-oriented, value a vigorous debate and would never censor someone … we deeply value our freedoms,” he said.
Mr. Levant told the Times that he knew of no public fuss in Calgary, but “more important, the university administration has not turned up with a threatening letter, as happened in Ottawa.”