Although relatively calm, and fortunately not typically prone to attention-grabbing headlines, my alma matter, University of Ottawa, does occasionally stumble into the spotlight every now and then. This time it involves all-star crazy woman, Ann Coulter, who, even by right wing American standards is pretty much psycho. Well, most of the time at least. But, then again I admit it sometimes makes for some good television, especially when she spars with Bill Mahr. She’s very likable, very entertaining – against all my better judgement.
In case you hadn’t heard, a scheduled U of O appearance was cancelled by the organizers who probably were concerned about the thousands of protesters outside the event, ultimately ceding to their demands.
That’s too bad really.
Not that most of us would likely agree with everything (or anything?) she would say, but it is a strike against free speech. And counterpoints—when not fueled by hate—are necessary in a system that concerns itself from hearing all sides, and reaching well-formed, battle-tested opinions and decisions.
Then again, I haven’t heard Coulter speak recently, so it’s quite possible she’s taken her world-class, attention-grabbing insanity to new heights. Again, though, what spectacle.
At this moment, it appears to be a pretty hot topic across news outlets and blogs. Google News alone has over 1,000 stories indexed. All the majors have weighed in including CNN, Fox, The Wall Street Journal. The Canadian press have been all over it too with stories in the Globe & Mail (The Coulter debate: Can you be too incendiary?), National Post, and, of course, Ottawa Citizen (Even if Ann Coulter is a villain, she isn’t the villain of this piece).
Tasha Kheiriddin wrote an interesting piece in the National Post, explaining why Canada has no Ann Coulter:
As I see it, the Ann Coulter phenomenon thrives south of the border for three reasons: the American philosophy of republicanism, market size, and the ever-increasing melding of news and entertainment. The last two are self-evident: more right-wing eyeballs on screens and pages, and a bigger infotainment industry to serve them.
A writer for the Vancouver Sun (Ann Coulter and free speech? Hardly) supports the U of O’s decision, and the students’ actions, blasting the use of freedom of speech as a crutch to spread hate: “Whether it’s humorous “jokes” about Muslims taking flying carpets instead of airplanes, or “real” remarks calling for the deaths of abortion doctors and condemning gays and lesbians, all speech is not free, neutral and deserving of utterance. You can’t just say whatever the hell you want.”
Yesterday I received an email response from Allan Rock, president of University of Ottawa: “we 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.” (the entire email is included below).
Ironically by cancelling her speech this week, the organizers unwittingly helped her out a tonne. Imagine. All this press. She must be positively thrilled. Twice as many people will follow her next few appearances.
Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak, and present her views. She’s been doing it for years here in the US, and has catapulted into the stratosphere of quasi-news, quasi-editorial, celebrities so in vogue here these days (Bill O’Reilly…).
Educational institutions are supposed to be the last bastion for free speech. The right to express, to challenge. Plus who are better positioned to think rationally, respond in measured debate than students?! We’re all adults here, and I think her perspective should be welcomed, however disagreeable.
It is, after all, more about entertainment than hardcore journalism. And perhaps that’s yet another difference between the US and Canada.
University of Ottawa Responds
Dear Alumni and Friends,
On Tuesday, March 23, an appearance by Ann Coulter was scheduled on our campus, organized by the International Free Press Society Canada and the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute.
The University of Ottawa has always promoted and defended freedom of expression. For that reason, we 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.
Last night, the organizers themselves decided at 7:50 p.m. to cancel the event and so informed the University’s Protection Services staff on site. At that time, a crowd of about one thousand people had peacefully gathered at Marion Hall.
“Freedom of expression is a core value that the University of Ottawa has always promoted,” said Allan Rock, President of the University. “We have a long history of hosting contentious and controversial speakers on our campus. Last night was no exception, as people gathered here to listen to and debate Ann Coulter’s opinions.
I encourage our students, faculty and other members of our community to maintain our University as an open forum for diverse opinions. Ours is a safe and democratic environment for the expression of views, and we will keep it that way.”