Rabid right winger Coulter spoke at Western University on Monday and is scheduled to speak at the universities in Ottawa and Calgary on Media Bias, Political Correctness and Freedom of Speech.
In a letter to Coulter, University of Ottawa provost Francois Houle, mindful that Coulter has previously baited Muslims in particular - she thinks all Muslims should be on a no-fly list - gave her a quick lesson in Canadian political culture, warning her that Canada's hate laws might make her vulnerable to prosecution and she should, basically, watch her mouth.
Canada's favourite free speech absolutists - take a bow Ezra Levant - have weighed in to express their outrage at what they call prior restraint. Obviously, she needed the warning, as her speech at Western demonstrated that she knows nothing about Canada or our values. She suggested that Houle's letter to her constitutes a hate crime and she's considering filing a Human Rights Commission complaint.
She's either kidding or stupid, kidding in that her extremist pals up here want to dismantle the Human Rights Commission, or stupid, in that, if she knew anything about this country she'd know that a simple warning, even censorship if you want to call it that - I don't - hardly constitutes hate.
But Coulter is not a subtle thinker. She thrives on the rollicking rant and reductionist ideas, which makes me wonder what she's doing on any campus in the first place. She and the gang are carrying on about the "free market of ideas" at universities but nowhere does it say that just because there's a market, every blogger, propagandist and provocateur has a right to sell themselves on campus.
While I was at Harvard in the 70s, a group of pro-Vietnam war technocrats were invited on campus to talk about the virtues of the war. One of them was Milton Sacks, creator of the tiger cage, an instrument of torture used to cow prisoners of war. Harvard had already changed its rules to allow Henry Kissinger - one of the Vietnam war's architects - to maintain his seat on the faculty after a lengthy absence while working for Richard Nixon.
Inviting Nixon's minions to speak seemed right off the charts - it wasn't as if the pro-war voices hadn't been heard. The war was in full swing and the "speech" of the country's hawks had already turned into hundreds of thousands of lost American and Vietnamese lives. We shouted them down. In the end ours was not a smart action - the dialogue became more about free speech on campus than about an evil war. But I never doubted that, considering the visitors' actions, they had lost the right to promote their reactionary ideas.
When Nobel Prize winning physicist William Shockley came to the University of Toronto in the late 70s to sell dubious racist notions related to genetics, the protest was wild - and correct. Shockley was neither a geneticist nor a social commentator, had no expertise in the area and was invited by right-wing agitators. No, thank you.
I've had my own experiences with communities being unhappy with my appearances on university campuses. I participate in a series of debates with the ex-porn star Ron Jeremy about the social meaning of pornography, and everyone from Bible thumpers to feminists have complained about it. One woman's college picketed the event. But for the most part, the fact that the program featured a debate and not just one voice was able to placate the protesters.
In the cases I've cited above, there was no debate, just propaganda.
Which brings me to Coulter, who is more media celebrity than thinker and has extremely toxic ideas about Canada, women, Muslims and host of other groups she has no problem generalizing about.
To give you a sense of how she thinks, consider her response in London to the Muslim student who queried her about her famous no- fly list comment. "I don't have a magic carpet," he said. "Take a camel," she replied.
Is this really the kind of discourse that university campuses should be promoting? I don't think so. It's a university's responsibility to create the kind of environment where people can think and learn. Coulter's speech does the opposite. If I were at any of the universities where she is appearing, I would be protesting like crazy.
As it is, provost Houle's letter seems to me to be fair warning. Cross the line, Ms. Coulter, and you'll pay the legal price. [rssbreak]