Right-wing American Ann Coulter, scheduled to speak Tuesday evening at the University of Ottawa, was shut down after the auditorium reserved for her speech was surrounded by protestors.
According to Ezra Levant, the Canadian conservative activist who was set to open for her, it was “physically dangerous” for Coulter to proceed.
“The University of Ottawa is not a place for debate,” Levant said to the crowd, many clad in shirts that read “Coulter Over Canada.”
Those who managed to get into the auditorium before the fire alarm was pulled and the doors were closed shouted “Shame!” when Levant announced the cancellation.
“It is an embarrassing day for the University of Ottawa and their student body, who could not debate Ann Coulter as was done at the University of Western (Ontario), who chose to silence her through threats and intimidation,” he said.
The speech was part of Coulter’s three-stop tour in Canada, sponsored by the International Free Press Society. Coulter spoke at the University of Western Ontario the night before, where she told a Muslim student to use a camel as a mode of transportation if she did not have a magic carpet, as she had previously suggested.
Outside the auditorium in Ottawa, the crowd was split.
Mike Fancie, a fourth-year student at the University of Ottawa who was the media spokesperson for the protest, said there were no more than 100 people actively protesting, contrary to Levant’s claim that there were 2,000. Everyone else, he said, was just trying to get into the event.
“Free speech ends when it becomes discriminatory and hateful,” said Sameena Topan, an administrator of the Facebook group that wanted to ban Ann Coulter from the University of Ottawa’s campus. She said she was happy the event was cancelled.
Others were not so pleased.
Jonathan Reid, a first-year political science student at Carleton University, yelled at protesters outside of the auditorium.
“I have nothing to say to people who silence free speech and go against the Constitution of Canada,” said Reid. “You have just demonstrated how unconstitutional all of you are.”
Kasia Adamiec, a first-year University of Ottawa criminology student who said she does not agree with Coulter’s opinions, agreed with Reid.
“I’m disappointed by the fact that my right to listen to freedom of speech was taken away tonight,” she said.
Fancie said the protest was not about shutting Coulter down, but about letting her know how unwelcome she was on campus.
“We are a diverse community and we have people on our campus who come from such a wide range of walks of life, many of whom Ann Coulter has insulted on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s unacceptable to hide behind a veil of freedom of speech in order to continue targeting those groups just for the sake of intolerance.”
Randal Marlin, a philosophy professor at Carleton University, said he would not have cancelled her speech, but would have expressed deep revulsion at what she does.
“She doesn’t deal at the level of intellectual discourse. It’s like a freak show,” he said.
“We are most tolerant when we are indifferent. The students at the University of Ottawa showed at least that they are not indifferent, and good for them on this.”
Coulter said she will file a human rights complaint against François Houle, vice-president and provost of the University of Ottawa. Houle sent her a letter that warned her Canadian defamation laws limit freedom of expression, and reminded her that her words could lead to criminal charges.
Marlin said, however, a hate crime must be directed at an identifiable group, “And purveyors of tasteless irony are not an identifiable group.”