Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre


By Mark Steyn
Wednesday, 24 March 2010

I've been traveling for most of the last day and so I'm late getting to the Coulter-cancelled-in-Canada story. Kathy Shaidle has three great round-ups here, here and here. Perhaps my single favourite line came from Kate McMillan:

See? You can yell "fire" in a crowded theatre after all!

Indeed. If this doesn't kill the laziest trope of the brain-dead statist control freak, nothing will. This was a literal re-enactment of the full Oliver Wendell: In Ottawa, the fire alarm was set off even though there was no fire but only a visiting conservative blonde. As Rebekah recounts:

Then the fire alarm went off. Do you know how loud industrial fire alarms are? Do you know what they sound like when they go on for about ten minutes?!

People in the auditorium seemed to be very confused about what was going on. It was impossible to tell what was happening outside. The rumors that I collected (true or not I'm not entirely sure) indicated that there were protesters outside yelling "No hate speech on campus", they had barricaded a door, they were pounding on the auditorium door...

My notes at the time read "We're trapped in here. No bathroom... This might get REALLY interesting."

Another lame argument of the censors is that "hateful words lead to hurtful actions". As Chief Commissar Jennifer Lynch, QC says:

Steyn would have us believe that words, however hateful, should be given free rein. History has shown us that hateful words sometimes lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes. That is why Canada and most other democracies have enacted legislation to place reasonable limits on the expression of hatred.

But it was not Ann Coulter but François Houle whose words led, very directly and within 48 hours, to actions that undermine freedom. As my old comrade Ezra Levant put it:

In a short speech, Levant said Tuesday was "an embarrassing day for the University of Ottawa and their student body, who could not debate Ann Coulter . . . who chose to silence her through threats and intimidation, just like their vice-president did."

Mr. Levant laid the blame squarely on Mr. Houle.

"A fish rots from the head down," he said. "Francois Houle got his wish. He telegraphed to the community that the University of Ottawa is not a place for free debate."

Houle could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night.

Well, there's a surprise. Ghost of a Flea writes:

Mob rule in Ottawa as leftist thugs used violence, intimidation and the threat of anarchy to prevent Ann Coulter from speaking at a local, bush league university.

That which does not kill you makes Ann Coulter's point.

That's another good line. But I'm not sure that's enough. Our side has all the good lines. The others are either nakedly Orwellian, carrying placards hailing "Free speech!" even as they threaten violence to silence their opponents, or so pathologically lacking in self-awareness that in the interests of creating "a safe, positive space" they join an ugly mob to crush any dissenters. The University of Ottawa, an institution mired in stultifying conformity and intellectual homogeneity, has just received a $2.5 million grant to study diversity. Last night's head cheerleader for the 21st century equivalent of book burning turns out to be an employee of the Canadian Library Association.

But you could point out the ironies forever, and the other side wouldn't care. Because they don't want to win the debate, they want to win, period. And that's a big difference. As I wrote in The National Post eight years ago - August 5th 2002:

The aim of a large swathe of the left is not to win the debate but to get it cancelled before it starts. You can do that in any number of ways -- busting up campus appearances by conservatives, "hate crimes" laws, Canada's ghastly human-rights commissions, the more "enlightened" court judgments, the EU's recent decision to criminalize "xenophobia," or merely, as the Times does, by declaring your side of every issue to be the "moderate" and "nonideological" position...

The quality of your argument is only important if you want to win by persuasion. But it’s irrelevant if you want to win by intimidation. I’m personally very happy to defend my columns in robust debate, but, if Canada believed in robust debate, we wouldn't have these "human rights" commissions or university administrators like the wretched M Houle in the first place. The morons who shut down Ann Coulter last night don't care that they made her point for her, anymore than those Muslim agitators in the streets of London fretted about the internal contradictions of threatening to kill anyone who says they're violent.

Freedom of speech is in grave peril in Canada. In the Coulter fracas, almost all the major societal institutions behaved poorly:

1) François Houle symbolizes a decadent academy that is the very antithesis of honest enquiry and intellectual debate that the university is supposed to represent.

2) The Ottawa Police have declared that there is no equality before the law. If you belong to certain groups, they'll stand by as the mob shuts you down.

3) The dinosaur media are vast lumbering eunuchs too cowed by political correctness to do even elementary research. Fatima Al Dhaher, the poor wee thing traumatized by Ann Coulter's camel joke, turns out to be a Jew-hater who wants to eliminate the State of Israel. But that's too complicated for the media to fit into their Sesame Street narratives.

Between them, the media, the law and the education system are actively shriveling Canada's liberties. It doesn't lead anywhere good: Ghost of a Flea's title - "Fascist Canada" - is no exaggeration. If you say, "Oh, c'mon, if you're not a troublemaker like Coulter or Levant or Guy Earle or Douglas McCue, Canada's very pleasant", well, so were large parts of Mussolini's Italy and Franco's Spain. But they were not free, and few pre-Trudeau Canadians would have entertained trading ancient liberties for soft totalitarianism euphemized as "diversity".

The saddest aspect of this sad day is the number of people who've sent e-mails denouncing the Ottawa bullies but ending with the words "If you print this, please don't mention my name." Don't you realize that that's part of the problem? In a sane world, it would be François Houle and Fatima Al Dhaher and Susan Cole who would be ashamed to have their names mentioned. But they're not. They're proud to nail their colours to the masts of state censorship, Israeli eliminationism, and mob violence - while your support for free speech and other traditional liberties can only be expressed sotto voce and anonymously. That right there tells you how much of Canada you've already lost.

She's also asking for it

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Ah, that famous Canadian hospitality. One François Houle, Provost of the University of Ottawa, writes to warn a forthcoming visitor to the campus, Miss Ann Coulter, that Canadians enjoy only the right to government-regulated "free speech" and that therefore she may be liable to criminal prosecution:

Dear Ms. Coulter,

I understand that you have been invited by University of Ottawa Campus Conservatives to speak at the University of Ottawa this coming Tuesday. We are, of course, always delighted to welcome speakers on our campus and hope that they will contribute positively to the meaningful exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of a great university campus. We have a great respect for freedom of expression in Canada, as well as on our campus, and view it as a fundamental freedom, as recognized by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or “free speech”) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here. You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. Outside of the criminal realm, Canadian defamation laws also limit freedom of expression and may differ somewhat from those to which you are accustomed. I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind. There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this University, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and urge you to respect that Canadian tradition while on our campus. Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion, but to a more meaningful, reasoned and intelligent one as well.

I hope you will enjoy your stay in our beautiful country, city and campus.


François Houle
Vice-recteur aux études / Vice-President Academic and Provost
Université d’Ottawa / University of Ottawa
550, rue Cumberland Street
Ottawa (ON) K1N 6N5
téléphone / telephone : 613 562-5737
télécopieur / fax : 613 562-5103

What a sad and embarrassing letter, even by the standards of the Canadian academy. Does M Houle write to all University of Ottawa speakers like this? Or does he reserve his telekinetic powers to detect "pre-crime" only for the ideologically suspect?

I've no idea what Ann Coulter's reaction to this letter is, but I suspect it's "Go ahead, Princess Fairy Pants, make my day." M Houle would have a very hard time persuading the Ottawa police or the RCMP to lay criminal charges over an Ann Coulter speech because they realize, even if he doesn't, that Canada doesn't need to become even more of an international laughingstock in this area. More likely is a complaint to the Canadian and/or Ontario "Human Rights" Commissions. But you know something? I don't get the feeling they'd be eager to re-ignite the free speech wars on a nuclear scale. Think of Ezra's and my appearance in the House of Commons, and then imagine the scene when Miss Coulter testifies. So the threat is an empty one and M Houle seems to be being - oh, what's the "respectful and civil" way of putting it? - a posturing wanker.

This is the pitiful state one of the oldest free societies on the planet has been reduced to, and this is why our free speech campaign matters - because those who preside over what should be arenas of honest debate and open inquiry instead wish to imprison public discourse within ever narrower bounds - and in this case aren't above threatening legal action against those who dissent from the orthodoxies. Lots of Americans loathe Ann Coulter but it takes a Canadian like François Houle to criminalize her. The strictures he attempts to place around her, despite his appeal to "Canadian law", are at odds with the eight centuries of Canada's legal inheritance. Canadians should point that out to him politely, and explain that, although he lives high off the hog courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer, he does not speak for them.

Telephone : (613) 562-5800 ext. 5737Fax : (613) 562-5106e-mail:

As I say, be polite but withering. He has after all explicitly threatened a visitor to Canada from a friendly country in a manner more suited to banana republic police chiefs.

And, if he insists his threats are not mere masturbatory posturing, tell him to contact Chief Commissar Jennifer Lynch, QC direct, and advise her that I'll be covering the hearing.

[UPDATE: Binks has more on The Houlinator.]

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