Anne Coulter’s Uncivilized Discussion

By Anne Coulter’s own admission, its been a pretty rough week.   Over the past few days she has been accused of thought crimes, threatened with criminal prosecution for speeches she hasn’t yet given and denounced on the floor of a Legislature.   Posters advertising her speech have been officially banned, while campus billboards denouncing  her are pervasive.

Where is she?   In the capital of a liberal democracy having been invited to deliver a speech that no one will now hear.

On March 22, Coulter was scheduled to speak on behalf of the International Free Press Association at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, the second appearance in a national tour.  But with 2,000 protesters gathered outside the University’s Marion Hall bearing stones and other projectiles, and with the very real risk of violence, the appearance had to be cancelled.

Unknown to most, however, it was not Coulter herself who decided to cancel the speech, but the Ottawa police, who could not or would not guarantee her safety.

Before she arrived, François Houle, the University’s Academic Vice-President Academic and Provost wrote her a cautionary letter suggesting that she ought to weigh her words with “respect and civility in mind”

He wrote:

” There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this University, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and I urge you to respect that Canadian tradition while on our campus. Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion.”

This is part of the same Canadian campus scene, of course, where Catholics have been accused of being killers and pedophiles, evangelicals of being hate-mongers and homophobes, Zionists of being genocidal butchers and conservatives of being deranged and imbecilic.

How is that for “ restraint, civility and respect?”

The University of Ottawa now joins that pantheon of great Canadian universities, such as York University (Daniel Pipes) and Concordia (Benjamin Netanyahu) where violence has been threatened and used to quash an alternative point of view.

Coulter might pay Pipes’ experience particular note. Recalling the January, 2003 incident where his talk “Barriers to Peace in the Middle East” was cancelled and then reinstated at the last minute, the Middle East expert stated:

” But surely the most memorable aspect of this talk was the briefing by James Hogan, a detective in the Hate Crime Unit of the Toronto Police Service, to make sure I was aware that Canada’s Criminal Code makes a variety of public statements actionable, including advocating genocide (up to five years in prison) and promoting hatred of a specific group (up to two years).”

Things have not changed all that much at York in the intervening eight years. Last month, a series was to be presented by the actively pro- Israel group Christians United For Israel ( CUFI).   However, as David Frum reports,  campus police made the following demands of the group:

” It insisted on heavy security, including both campus and Toronto police — all of those costs to be paid by the program organizers. The organizers would also have to provide an advance list of all program attendees and advance summaries of all the speeches. No advertising for the program would be permitted — not on the York campus, not on any of the other campuses participating by remote video.”

Interestingly, an anti- Israel apartheid week in the same month had no such barriers placed upon it.  It did not have to pay for its own security. It was free to advertise and its speakers were not pre-screened.

In September, 2002 , a speech by then Israeli Finance Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia University in Montreal was similarly cancelled when students broke through barriers and attempted to storm the auditorium.   Riot police had to escort attendees from the building.  One of the student recalled:

” The scene as we exited was disgusting. Benches were overturned, papers and garbage streaked across the hallways, and broken windows. We were shoved outside directly into a huge pro-Palestinian riot, where some of our people were apparently attacked… On their side, they threw bottles at people’s heads, screamed hatred, and tried to break the barriers down to hurt us. They started tossing pennies and coins at us — one of the oldest ways to taunt Jews by saying we’re all “money-grubbing.” While we sang Hatikvah arm in arm, they spat at us.”

The sheer terror of the scene is captured evocatively in the documentary Confrontation@Concordia.

I’ m no great fan of Ann Coulter’s.  I find much of her work tasteless.  But tastelessness does not amount to hate speech, no matter what the University of Ottawa’s administration nor York University’s campus police believe.  The apparent willingness to allow those who employ violence and intimidation to speak without restraint, while those who refuse to do so have their speech reviewed, monitored, crimped and even cancelled, is  craven surrender to anti-democratic notions and a potential death blow to free speech.

Do our western university administrations understand this?  Have they no courage at all to employ their authority on campus to decisively impose zero tolerance proscriptions on hate mongering against conservatives and its attendant violence?

I am not sure.  Certainly Canada is in the throes of a serious reversal of basic democratic rights, convincing itself  that it is all in the interests of keeping the peace.  That attitude will haunt the nation as a generation comes to realize that it can achieve with violence far more than what it can gain through dialogue and openness to alternative points of view.

One has to wonder whether Provost Houle and others of his ilk appreciate that this is exactly the kind of  “civilized discussion” our future universities can anticipate and could be their most fateful legacy.


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