Ah, that famous Canadian hospitality. One François Houle, Provost of the University of Ottawa, writes to warn a forthcoming visitor to the campus, Miss Ann Coulter, that Canadians enjoy only the right to government-regulated “free speech” and that therefore she may be liable to criminal prosecution:
Dear Ms. Coulter,
I understand that you have been invited by University of Ottawa Campus Conservatives to speak at the University of Ottawa this coming Tuesday. We are, of course, always delighted to welcome speakers on our campus and hope that they will contribute positively to the meaningful exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of a great university campus. We have a great respect for freedom of expression in Canada, as well as on our campus, and view it as a fundamental freedom, as recognized by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or “free speech”) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here. You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. Outside of the criminal realm, Canadian defamation laws also limit freedom of expression and may differ somewhat from those to which you are accustomed. I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind. There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this University, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and 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, but to a more meaningful, reasoned and intelligent one as well.
I hope you will enjoy your stay in our beautiful country, city and campus.
Vice-recteur aux études / Vice-President Academic and Provost
Université d’Ottawa / University of Ottawa
550, rue Cumberland Street
Ottawa (ON) K1N 6N5
téléphone / telephone : 613 562-5737
télécopieur / fax : 613 562-5103
What a sad and embarrassing letter, even by the standards of the Canadian academy. Does M Houle write to all University of Ottawa speakers like this? Or does he reserve his telekinetic powers to detect “pre-crime” only for the ideologically suspect?
I’ve no idea what Ann Coulter’s reaction to this letter is, but I suspect it’s “Go ahead, Princess Fairy Pants, make my day.” M Houle would have a very hard time persuading the Ottawa police or the RCMP to lay criminal charges over an Ann Coulter speech because they realize, even if he doesn’t, that Canada doesn’t need to become even more of an international laughingstock in this area. More likely is a complaint to the Canadian and/or Ontario “Human Rights” Commissions. But you know something? I don’t get the feeling they’d be eager to re-ignite the free speech wars on a nuclear scale. Think of Ezra’s and my appearance in the House of Commons, and then imagine the scene when Miss Coulter testifies. So the threat is an empty one and M Houle seems to be being – oh, what’s the “respectful and civil” way of putting it? – a posturing wanker.
This is the pitiful state one of the oldest free societies on the planet has been reduced to, and this is why our free speech campaign matters – because those who preside over what should be arenas of honest debate and open inquiry instead wish to imprison public discourse within ever narrower bounds – and in this case aren’t above threatening legal action against those who dissent from the orthodoxies. Lots of Americans loathe Ann Coulter but it takes a Canadian like François Houle to criminalize her. The strictures he attempts to place around her, despite his appeal to “Canadian law”, are at odds with the eight centuries of Canada’s legal inheritance. Canadians should point that out to him politely, and explain that, although he lives high off the hog courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer, he does not speak for them.
Telephone : (613) 562-5800 ext. 5737
Fax : (613) 562-5106
As I say, be polite but withering. He has after all explicitly threatened a visitor to Canada from a friendly country in a manner more suited to banana republic police chiefs.
And, if he insists his threats are not mere masturbatory posturing, tell him to contact Chief Commissar Jennifer Lynch, QC direct, and advise her that I’ll be covering the hearing.