OTTAWA, March 26, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Repercussions continue to reverberate across Canada following the cancellation of Ann Coulter’s scheduled talk at the University of Ottawa on Tuesday. The speech was canceled after organizers and security officials expressed concerns that they could not guarantee Coulter’s safety, due to a crowd of protesters, reportedly up to 2,000 strong.
Numerous commentators are decrying what they consider the erosion of free speech evidenced by the cancellation, and the broader implications that recent events have for Canadian society.
On Thursday Senator Doug Finley rose in the Senate to give notice that he would “call the attention of the Senate to the issue of the erosion of Freedom of Speech in our country” by means of an inquiry to be held as early as next week.
Senate rules stipulate that a minimum of two days must elapse before a sponsoring senator can speak to an inquiry he or she would like to initiate. This means that Senator Finley is expected to speak to the issue next Tuesday at the earliest. (See Hansard record of Finley’s notice here.)
Conservative blogger and political commentator Stephen Taylor remarked that Senator Finley’s move “is likely in reaction to recent events by university officials and students at the University of Ottawa to intimidate US conservative commentator Ann Coulter from appearing on campus.”
Taylor also observed that, “The Senator will also rise during a time when federal and provincial human rights commissions have run amok, hearing complaints by politically offended groups and individuals.”
The Canadian Association of University Teachers (AUT), which represents more than 67,000 academic and general staff at colleges and universities across Canada, has waded into the fray with a letter to University of Ottawa Provost Francois Houle demanding he apologize to Ann Coulter for the letter he wrote to her, in which he hinted at the possibility of criminal charges if she did not weigh her words “with respect and civility in mind.”
“We feel you [Houle] owe an apology to Ms. Coulter and, even more importantly, you owe the University of Ottawa community an assurance that the administration of the university strongly supports freedom of expression, academic freedom and views the role of the university as fostering and defending these values,” wrote the group.
AUT President Penni Stewart and executive director James Turk added that Mr. Houle’s action also “raises serious questions about the University of Ottawa’s respect for freedom of expression and academic freedom.”
The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) issued a press release on Thursday lambasting, “The University of Ottawa’s appalling behavior towards Ann Coulter,” and warning about the negative effect of “mob rule” on Canadian universities.
“Mob rule on Canadian universities should trouble all Canadians,” said CCBR Co-Founder and Executive Director Stephanie Gray. “The University of Ottawa’s appalling behavior towards Ann Coulter is the most recent example of how universities are ceasing to be a place of higher learning. By sending Coulter a letter warning her not to violate Canada’s hate speech rules, the university seems to suggest that controversial speech could be illegal.”
The statement continued on to say that, “The CCBR urges universities to combat the stifling of free speech just because it is deemed ‘offensive’ by a small group of angry students.”
“This highlights a disturbing trend in Canada: bullies have been taught that they need only shout, threaten to disrupt an event, or mis-label people or activities as ‘hate’ or ‘harassment’ and the innocent will be censored. All too often the authorities listen to these thugs and limit or suppress peaceful speech for fear of what the bullies will do. This is especially true of pro-life speech.”
The CCBR release (available here) goes on to describe instances of “mob rule” at Canadian universities, where protesters have disrupted or shut down numerous school-approved pro-life and pro-free-speech events.
Ann Coulter’s scheduled appearance in Calgary on Thursday was well-received, however, with only a few dozen protesters standing around outside the Red and White Club at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, where organizers had moved the event to accommodate the close to 1000 students and ticketholders who came to hear her speak.
CHQR radio reported that the protesters “banged on the walls of the building and one protester broke the glass door at the front of the building, but there were no other reports of violent incidents” and the handful of police on hand made no arrests.