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Margin Notes

Ann Coulter’s visit to Ottawa

Was it a test of free speech or a cynical stunt? You decide.


I am annoyed by this whole Ann Coulter fiasco.

As was reported in the media this morning (see the Globe and Mail, CBC, CTV and Ottawa Citizen), Ms. Coulter was unable to give a talk at the University of Ottawa yesterday evening because of security concerns. Exactly whose concerns those were, and who decided to cancel the event, isn’t clear. Reports variously claim it was cancelled by the organizers (a group called the International Free Press Society of Canada, led by Ezra Levant), the university, the police, or Ms. Coulter’s own entourage.

The concerns stem from a loud and reportedly unruly crowd of students that had gathered outside the venue where Ms. Coulter was scheduled to give her talk.

I suppose, depending on your point of view, Ms. Coulter is a brash, rude and objectionable right-wing U.S. polemicist or she is a shrewd, brilliant and incisive right-wing satirist. Personally, I find her whole act ugly.

This entire confrontation is being spun as an issue of freedom of speech – and it is, of course. However, when I think of that lofty ideal, I think of reasoned and respectful debate. I believe Ms. Coulter’s appearance was not meant to be that at all, but was intended by the organizers as a blatant provocation. It was a cynical stunt.

Yes, the mature thing to do when provoked is to turn the other cheek. Reacting will only ensure her a higher profile and more media coverage. We all get that. But, as someone who went to boo Ronald Reagan on his visit to Parliament Hill nearly 30 years ago, while I was a student at University of Ottawa, who am I to say? Voicing your displeasure is a right, too.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Laura Servage / March 24, 2010 at 10:15

    Yes it’s interesting that these things always come down to competing claims of the right to free speech, and both “sides” claim to be upholding the same value.

    So that’s not the problem, really. As you suggest, it’s how we go about it. We lack common ground when it comes to decorum. (Hmmmm…they can’t even manage that in Parliament…)

    The best thing to do with the Coulter silliness would have been to ignore it. The protests just invited caricature of those “crazy leftists on campus.”

  2. Jo VanEvery / March 24, 2010 at 11:13

    I agree with you. And I would add “Live by the sword. Die by the sword.”

    If Coulter is going to engage in inflammatory speech then she should expect people to get inflamed and protest. And if she can’t walk through a protest to go make her speech ….

    Well that just looks like wanting to have her cake and eat it.

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