Saved! The Precious and Impressionable Dears of the University of Ottawa


If you are Drudge reader, you have doubtless now heard that conservative firebrand Ann Coulter was greeted with a heckler's veto yesterday at a speech in Canada. For reasons of "safety," the cowardly cops and spineless administrators at the University of Ottawa cancelled the lecture, sending a martyred Coulter to perform for CBC cameras instead of a hall full of impressionable students. I don't suspect I agree with Coulter on much of anything (especially her hagiographic treatment of ol' Tailgunner Joe), but that's rather beside the point. It is, instead, about the role of the university in making sure people like Coulter, once invited, are permitted to present ideas without being mau-maued.

For instance, check out this stunning letter U of O Vice President and Provost Francois Houle sent to Coulter prior to her arrival in Canada:

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

It is alarming, but unsurprising, that a university provost cloaks his contempt for Coulter's opinions in a legalistic argument about the "limits" of free inquiry. Even more depressing is that he would do so preemptively. Perhaps I'm exposing myself as a starry-eyed idealist, but is not incumbent upon university officials like Houle to encourage a free and open exchange of ideas, no matter how loathsome some thin-skinned students might find them? And if the poor dears of the University of Ottawa suspect that they might be "offended" by Coulter, might I recommend that they retire to their dorm with an Antonio Gramsci book?

Those rushing in to the breach, commenting on the injustice of it all (and it most certainly is), might want to look at the recent case of Israel Sahiri. In 2008, Sahiri, a leader of the Ugandan Jewish community (!), was prevented from speaking at the University of Ottawa campus because of his supposed "relationship to apartheid Israel." Sahiri isn't Israeli nor was his speech about Israel. As National Post writer Barbara Kay explained, "Not only was the speech apolitical, in fact it was a multiculturalist's dream theme: about schools that feed and educate 500 Jewish, Muslim and Christian children studying together, and open to all students at the university." But just in case, he was barred from speaking on campus, lest he spread a love for apartheid.

All of this is easy to pull off when students, like the weak-kneed, Feinian-named student body president Seamus Wolfe, declare that certain ideologies are "not welcome on campus." Sameena Topan, a conflict studies and human rights major who spoke to the Ottawa Citizen "on behalf of a group of protesters," gloated that "we accomplished what we were here to do, to ensure that we don't have her discriminatory rhetoric on our campus." It is good to see that the University of Ottawa, which provides a salary to mad 9/11 truthers like Michel Chossudovsky, is teaching its students that to resolve conflicts and agitate for human rights, one only needs to prevent speech they deem "discriminatory."