by Joanna D'Angelo

A few weeks ago (March 24th) extreme right political commentator/author Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak at the University of Ottawa (one of the two universities in Ottawa - the capital of Canada - also the city where I live).  Her appearance however, was cancelled apparently because of protesters who were threatening violence.  I'm sure where ever Ms. Coulter speaks, there are throngs of people protesting her views. I am also sure that she always has ample security guards to deal with any potential violence. But in the end the potential threat of possible violence from protesters only fanned the flames to an already smoldering fire that had begun with a letter sent to Ms. Coulter by University of Ottawa's academic vice-president François Houle who cautioned her to be careful with what she was going to say because of Canada's hate laws.

University of Ottawa academic vice-president François Houle wrote:

“I hereby encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here,”

“Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges.”

You can imagine what happened next. Ms. Coulter took to the news media waving the letter and criticising the University of Ottawa, calling them a "bush league" institution and suggesting "their IQ points-to-teeth ratio must be about 1-to-1". (Washington Times)

Critics also said the event was poorly organised and it was not clear how many people were actually going to be in attendance. I'm not sure why this particular event was poorly organised considering the large number of events that the U of O puts on throughout the year. 

At the end of the day it turned into one big pie in the face for the University of Ottawa. We all know what Ms. Coulter's shtick is. We've known that for years. We know she revels in ridiculing the left and making bold statements about certain ethnic groups. She calls much of it satire. Okay. Whatever. I don't find what she has to say particularly funny or enlightening. Some people might even call her statements offensive. But what I find truly offensive is limiting freedom of expression/speech.  And that is in fact what happened here.

My educational background is in journalism. I attended the other university in Ottawa - Carleton U, the top journalism school in Canada. At least it was when I was there. Some would argue that Ryerson is now giving it a run for its money. But many of Canada's top journalists practically lived in St. Patrick's Building as I did, for four years.  And one of the tenets that we hold dearly is freedom of speech. Discussed at length in ethics classes. Hammered into our heads. I understand the importance of hate laws. Absolutely. But to be honest, I don't believe Ms. Coulter falls into that category.

I am an open minded person - I am not afraid to hear differing opinions even from the likes of Ms. Coulter.  I've watched her enough times on TV to know what she's about anyway.  Heck, she's been on The View several times. Now, why would that show invite her back if they thought she was hate mongering? Hmm...because they know that the audience loves to watch Whoopi and Joy go at it with her that's why. It makes for good TV. That's what Ann Coulter does very well. She makes outrageous statements and it gets her a lot of attention. Well, didn't we just become part of that media hoopla.

By the way, the U of O speech was part of a three-day Canadian university speaking tour. Ms. Coulter did speak at the University of Western Ontario (in London) and the University of Calgary (in Calgary). So more egg on the face for Ottawa. Ottawa should have set an example. Ottawa - the capital of Canada, the seat of Canadian Parliament and the hub of Canadian national politics. Ottawa welcomes heads of state from all over the world. Their ambassadorial representatives are based here. Not to mention we have wall-to-wall international news media outlets here. The Coulter speaking engagement should not have been a big deal. And yet it turned into one.

But all of that aside - I was embarrassed that Canadians (well, the Ottawa contingent anyway) have come across looking provincial, unsophisticated and too weak-minded to be able to hear out a conservative media personality...and we're not. And I was ashamed that we, in effect made it impossible for Ms. Coulter to speak and engage her in a debate.  Wasn't that the point after all? Isn't that something that universities are supposed to do?  Expose their student population to controversial speakers (whether they are left or right leaning on the political spectrum) so that they may engage/learn/debate/ask questions etc... That's what I've always thought.

Yes, it will pass. It has passed. But as the extreme conservative movement continues to build in popularity so too will the speakers from that side of the debate.  I just hope that Ottawa will be more open minded next time a right wing speaker comes to town.

photo of Ann Coulter via
photo of Parliament Hill, Ottawa  via Richard McGuire


  1. This was not what I expected to read -- bravo! Ann Coulter isn't my favorite but I'm all about free speech (though I was told once, because I'm a conservative, that I should be more concerned about my freedom from ignorance rather than my freedom of speech). Thanks for a great post!

  2. Thanks Lynn. I'm a firm believer in freedom of speech. We all have differing political opinions and we should be able to express them without being ridiculed or muzzled. Thanks again for your comment. I appreciate it. ;)

  3. LOL! Joanna, I wrote a post inspired by her visit, too, over at my blog:

    13 Quotes by Ann Coulter and 13 Quotes by Adolf Hitler

    I personally appreciated the fact that Mein Kampf was available for me to read online, so I could gather my quotes. The lack of censorship there most deeply appreciated by moi.

    The fact that she was warmly embraced by Calgary but given the cold shoulder in Ottawa speaks volumes about political realities in a country the size of ours. One viewpoint definitely does not speak for all Canadians.


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