OTTAWA (CUP)—Chaos erupted on the night of March 23 as hundreds of protesters clashed with police to prevent Ann Coulter, the radically conservative US pundit, from speaking on the University of Ottawa campus.
The dozens of spectators who had been admitted into the school’s Marion Hall auditorium were eventually told that it was “physically dangerous” to proceed with the event and were evacuated from the building.
“It is an embarrassing day for the University of Ottawa and their student body that couldn’t debate Ann Coulter and chose to silence her,” said Ezra Levant, a Canadian conservative activist who was to introduce Coulter at the event. “Never in my whole life [have] I thought I would have to tell people how to get out of a university safely.”
The speaking event was part of Coulter’s three-city Canadian tour, organized by the International Free Press Society and the Claire Boothe Luce Policy Institute, an American organization supporting conservative women in politics. Coulter was scheduled to speak on political correctness, media bias and freedom of speech.
She is perhaps best known for making controversial comments including calling for Islamic countries to be invaded and all Muslims to be converted to Christianity shortly after 9/11.
Students and local residents began lining up in front of Marion Hall several hours before the event. Shortly before the scheduled speaking time, though, the building’s fire alarm was pulled and the speech was delayed.
After groups of people began to chant lines such as, “No more hate speech on our campus” and “Coulter go home,” and crowded the doors to the building, Levant announced to those present in the auditorium that the event was canceled, citing security concerns.
While Levant indicated it was protesters who pressed against the doors to the building, witnesses outside claimed that police blocked the entrance to Marion Hall. A group of activists, including several members of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), took credit for the protest.
“We support a positive space on campus. We don’t tolerate hate speech,” said Social Sciences student Taiva Tegler, one of the organizers of the protest.
The audience inside the auditorium consisted largely of Coulter’s supporters, but several protesters were able to get inside by registering earlier with event organizers.
“I think it is very disgraceful that there are so many people here that support a woman who has made very homophobic, racist (and) sexist comments,” said graduate student Samantha Ponting, one of the protesters who gained entry to the event.
“By allowing her here on campus, it has created an unsafe space. That’s why we closed the event,” she said.
Coulter’s supporters were upset with the cancelation of the event. Ottawa resident Bob Ward has followed Coulter’s work—which has included several New York Times bestsellers and numerous television appearances—for five years and had registered for her speech weeks in advance.
“I think the University of Ottawa really should be quite embarrassed by what’s happened here tonight,” he said, suggesting that the university should apologize to Coulter and invite her back to campus.
Frances Ladouceur, another Ottawa resident, was unable to get into the event after the protesters pulled the fire alarm.
“I’m upset that a bunch of punks…that obviously aren’t from this country, they’re Arabic or whatever—they ruined it for everyone else,” she said. “It is a communist university and I will never send my children [here].”
Francois Houle, the University of Ottawa’s Provost, sent a letter to Coulter on March 19 in which he warned her of Canadian hate speech laws and encouraged her to “educate (her)self, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada.” Houle also noted that “promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges.”
The letter was leaked to The National Post and newsmax.com, a conservative American news site. Coulter responded to the administrator’s comments in an e-mail to the Ottawa Citizen on March 22.
“I see that [Houle] is guilty of promoting hatred against an identifiable group: conservatives,” she wrote. “Not only does this promote hatred against conservatives, but it promotes violence against conservatives.”
Coulter drew criticism a day earlier at the University of Western Ontario where she told one Muslim student to “take a camel” if he didn’t have a magic carpet, a reference to an past comment she has made. Levant praised the speech, which drew 800 people.
“It was a tremendous civil debate,” he said. “It was a great night for democracy. A great night for freedom.”
Levant also classified Coulter’s trip to Ottawa as a success for exposing the importance placed on Canadian values of free speech and characterized the night’s outcome as a “teaching moment for the entire country.”
Lars Hedegaard, president of the International Free Press Society, has promised to bring Coulter back to the U of O campus in the future. Coulter is scheduled to speak at the University of Calgary on March 25.