Stepping on free speech to keep out Coulter - Macleans.ca

Stepping on free speech to keep out Coulter

University of Ottawa student union president wants to ban controversial writer and speaker from campus

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“Fickle Students for Selective Free Speech?”

Yes, that’ll do nicely. After all, I think it’s about time we coin some sort of phrase to describe the exasperating irresolution of student leaders on the issue.

Free speech is good, right? Except when it comes certain stances on abortion, Israel/Palestine, and anything else that can otherwise make you uncomfortable or upset.

This week, it’s Ann Coulter, the notoriously controversial writer/speaker/columnist known for her right-wing opinions and provocative comments.  Coulter is scheduled to speak at the University of Western Ontario Today and University of Calgary Thursday, but it’s Tomorrow’s visit to the University of Ottawa that has spawned a “Ban Coulter from Campus” Facebook group and disdain from SFUO president Seamus Wolfe.

“The federation does not support Ann Coulter speaking on our campus,” Wolfe told the Ottawa Citizen. “We’re trying to work with the administration to see if we can ask her to do her speaking event somewhere else.”

That’s not all. According to the Ottawa Citizen article, Wolfe has prohibited posters advertising the event from going up in the University Centre building.

It seems obvious to me that these are counter-productive resistance tactics. Not liking Ann Coulter—that, I get. But trying to keep her off campus? I’ll need a little help with that one.

If anything, U of O students should consider themselves lucky; they have home court advantage, strength in numbers (or so it seems, at least, from Wolfe’s comments) and the opportunity to challenge Coulter directly during a scheduled Q&A after her speech.

Censorship is nothing but a soggy band-aid. Why cover up contentious ideology when you can potentially reason it down to irrelevance?

If you really think Coulter spews ridiculous, insulting dribble, let her hang herself with her own words. It will be a lot more effective than putting tape over her mouth and insisting that she would have been offensive.

In a 2005 editorial, Gilles Marchildon, executive director of Egale Canada, a national LGBT lobby group, summed up this view of censorship very succinctly. Referring to a homophobic letter printed in an Alberta newspaper by Pastor Stephen Boissoin in 2002, Marchildon writes:

While it is difficult to support Boissoin’s right to spew his misguided and vitriolic thoughts, support his right, we must.

If Boissoin was no longer able to share his views, then who might be next in also having their freedom of expression limited. Traditionally, the LGBT community’s freedom has been repressed by society and its laws.

Plus, it is far better that Boissoin expose his views than have them pushed underground. Under the glaring light of public scrutiny, his ideas will most likely wither and die.

Coulter’s views, too, should face the glaring light of public scrutiny. And our universities are just the places to house the debate. That is, unless our student nannies get in the way.