Ann Coulter causes uproar at Ottawa campus
On Monday, March 22, a planned speech at the University of Ottawa (U of O) by the controversial right-wing commentator Ann Coulter was cancelled due to security concerns. The decision came after demonstrations by hundreds of students from the University of Ottawa and Carleton led to fears of violence.
“The protesters were banging on windows, pulling fire alarms, creating a heightened sense of worry. If Ann Coulter showed up amidst the protesters it could have been a very unsafe situation,” said Nicholas Fleet, a U of O economics student and volunteer for the event.
Coulter was in the middle of a tour of three Canadian universities, including the University of Western Ontario and the University of Calgary that was sponsored by the International Free Press Society and Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute, which encourages conservatism among women. She is best known for her controversial comments regarding women, homosexuals and Muslims.
Some students feel that Coulter’s views constitute hate speech and are unacceptable in Canada.
“It is very disgraceful that there are so many people here that support a woman who has made very homophobic, racist [and] sexist comments,” said graduate student Samantha Ponting, one of the protesters. “By allowing her here on campus it has created an unsafe space. That’s why we closed the event.”
Coulter previously created controversy at the University of Western Ontario where she suggested a Muslim student “take a camel” as an alternative to air transportation.
Supporters of the event, although in disagreement with most of her controversial comments, feel she has the protected right of freedom of speech.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about Ann Coulter before I got into this event. I don’t agree with a lot of what she says, but she gets people talking about issues that are important in politics, such as free speech,” said Fleet.
In an unprecedented move, prior to the scheduled speech, U of O’s academic vice-president Francois Houle warned Coulter in a letter copied to other university officials that, “Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges.”
Critics see this as a deliberate move to limit free speech on campus, which only inflamed the situation.
“I’m deeply concerned by the assertion that views that disagree with the majority on campus are not welcome. People should not think alike. We should be welcoming a diversity of opinion on campus,” said Fleet.
“The [Student Federation of the University of Ottawa] SFUO and Francois Houle appointed themselves as referees to what ideas are allowed on campus and what are not. This makes a lot of students concerned,” he added.
The SFUO had called upon the university president Alan Rock to cancel the event, and refused to allow posters advertising the event in the student centre.
Its president, Seamus Wolfe, was seen as a key organizer in the protest.
“Students from across this campus got together to express their outrage that such hate would have been allowed on campus,” said Wolfe.
“I am very proud that students didn’t allow somebody who consistently spreads hate and promotes violence to come and do that on our campus.”
Coulter is a columnist for the Universal Press Syndicate, writes a legal affairs column for the conservative publication Human Events and frequents talk shows across the United States.
Coulter gave a speech the next day at the University of Calgary without incident.
–with files from Len Smirnov, The Fulcrum