A controversial event at the University of Ottawa featuring right-wing U.S. pundit Ann Coulter was cancelled due to apparent safety concerns, after 200 students gathered in protest outside.
Lawyer and political activist Ezra Levant, who was slated to speak before Coulter, broke the news to the half-filled auditorium in Marion Hall, after chaos at the registration table and a pulled fire alarm caused delays. “The police and the security have advised that it would be physically dangerous for Ann Coulter to proceed with this event and for others to come in,” Levant said.
Controversy has stemmed from Coulter’s writing, which some critics say promotes hate.
In one prominent column she wrote for the nationalreview.com after September 11, Coulter said: “We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”
Coulter was scheduled to speak at the Ottawa campus as part of a three-stop Canadian tour that started at the University of Western Ontario on Monday and ends at the University of Calgary on Thursday. The events were organized by the International Free Press Society in partnership with student Conservative groups on each campus.
Students in Ottawa lined up more than an hour before the event was set to start and the entrance to the auditorium quickly filled as the crowd attempted to push and bargain their way past the volunteers who were trying to verify who had registered in advance.
According to volunteers, only those on their lists who had confirmed registration would be let into the auditorium.
Inside, Levant cited the letter sent to Coulter by the University of Ottawa vice-president academic and provost Francois Houle, that he said concealed a “veiled threat” and was the source of controversy leading up to Coulter’s arrival in Canada.
In his letter, of which a copy was obtained by the National Post, Houle urged Coulter to act with “restraint” and warned her Canadian laws for freedom of speech differ from those in the United States. He advised that before arriving at the University of Ottawa campus Coulter should “educate [her]self as to what is acceptable in Canada” and to “weigh [her] words with respect and civility in mind.”
That message was echoed by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, who Levant said, took their cue from the administration. The SFUO opposed Coulter’s arrival on campus, and Levant said ripped down posters advertising the event.
“Francois Houle got his wish,” Levant said. “He telegraphed to the community that the University of Ottawa is not a place for free debate like Western Ontario.” Levant’s speech was met by shouts of “Shame!” and “We want Ann!” from the raucous crowd.
Bjorn Larsen, the president of the International Free Press Society, the group who organized Coulter’s speaking tour, expressed his disappointment at having to cancel the event. “I promise you that we will try to bring Ann Coulter back,” Larsen said, which received loud applause from the audience, but was drowned out by protesters in the back who chanted “Ann go home!”
“It is an embarrassing day for the University of Ottawa and their student body,” Levant said. But protesters outside were happy to see the event cancelled. Levant said there were “2,000 intimidating protesters pressing against police,” but officers confirmed there was closer to 200 demonstrators.
Those who had gathered broke out in chants of: “Whose campus? Our campus!” after the event was cancelled, as police barred the way to the front doors of the building. A few pro-Coulter supporters came around to the front of the building and engaged in impromptu and heated debate with the protesters.
One student held a sign that read: “Free speech stops at hate speech.”
“We came together because we’re angry about the fact that Ann Coulter’s views risked being exposed on our campus,” said University of Ottawa student Mike Fancie. “The precedent that Ann Coulter set by publicly . . . insulting a Muslim student at the University of Western last night shows that she had no intention of being civil and no intention of avoiding attacks on minorities last night.”
During her speech to a crowd of 800 at the University of Western Ontario Monday night, Coulter told Muslim student Fatima Al-Dhaher to “take a camel” as an alternative to flying, the National Post reported. Coulter has said previously that Muslims should be banned from airplanes and instead use “flying carpets.” Al-Dhaher had asked Coulter how she was expected to travel, since she didn’t own a flying carpet.
Coulter also told the UWO crowd that the University of Ottawa provost’s letter has made her a victim of “hate crime” and that she would be taking it up with the Human Rights Commission.
SFUO president Seamus Wolfe said earlier in the day that he thought the provost’s letter to Coulter was “reasonable.” Wolfe said he had heard from a number of students over the past few days who were outraged about Coulter’s arrival at the university.
“Anyone that consistently promotes hatred of violence towards any individual or group of people should not be permitted to use a public institution, like a university, as a soapbox for that hatred and promotion of violence,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe was outside the building after the announcement that the event was cancelled. “I’m very happy that the students have spoken loud and clear, and that hate speech is not allowed at the University of Ottawa,” he said.
Coulter has appeared as a political and legal commentator on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.
This story has been updated.