Despite conflicting reports, Ottawa Police said event organizers, not police, cancelled a speaking engagement at the University of Ottawa Tuesday evening that featured the fiery U.S. pundit Ann Coulter.
After a fire alarm that delayed the event from starting, Ezra Levant, who was set to open for Coulter, told the approximately 200 people who made it inside the auditorium: “2,000 people right now are pressed against the front doors, pressed against the police, refusing to allow people to come in” and, Levant added, police and security had advised them it would be “physically dangerous” for Coulter to speak.
“We did advise Ottawa U security that the venue wasn’t large enough to accommodate all the people who attended,” said Ottawa Police media spokesperson Const. Alain Boucher.
But he said, whether or not the event would take place was up to the organizers. Boucher said Ottawa Police were concerned with “security issues,” which he said could be summed up to the sheer number of people for the size of the venue. He said according to police estimates there were 1,500 people in total, both outside and in the entrance to Marion Hall, where the event was being held.
As for the protesters outside the auditorium, Boucher said, “I wouldn’t call them rioters. They were people there to voice their concerns.”
After Levant and International Free Press Society president Bjorn Larsen finished speaking to the almost half-full auditorium, protesters could be found grouped together on the tarmac holding signs and chanting various call and responses.
Police were guarding the steps to the building, but at the time none of the protesters were within 10 feet of the officers. No arrests or reports of violence were made.
One of the officers estimated the number of demonstrators to be 200.
Coulter herself told Maclean’s that police “eventually said, we’ve got a bad feeling, this isn’t gonna happen. And they shut it down.”
But Boucher, maintains, the decision to cancel the event wasn’t made by police.
Despite backlash the university received after vice-president academic and provost Francois Houle sent a letter to Coulter advising her to “weigh [her] words with respect and civility in mind,” the university insists it never prevented the event from taking place.
A statement issued Wednesday said that the university made no attempts to bar Coulter from appearing on campus. “Last night, the organizers themselves decided at 7:50 p.m. to cancel the event and so informed the University’s Protection Services staff on site. At that time, a crowd of about one thousand people had peacefully gathered at Marion Hall,” the statement said.
President of the university Allan Rock, is quoted: “Freedom of expression is a core value that the University of Ottawa has always promoted.”
The organizers of Coulter’s speech, students from the school’s Campus Conservatives, have not yet responded to requests for comment from Maclean’s.
Coulter is set to speak at the University of Calgary tonight. CTV reported University of Calgary provost Alan Harrison said security will be increased because of what happened in Ottawa.
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