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Wente vs. Saurette

The Coulter debate: Can you be too incendiary? Add to ...

It was the wrong thing to do strategically, politically and morally, and I think the CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers), which is very big on free speech, ought to censure them.

On the issue of whether Mr. Houle's letter (and the cancellation of the speech) had a chilling effect, obviously the opposite is true. It landed her in prime time for days. When will people learn that trying to impose censorship is like handing a megaphone to the person they're trying to shut down? You'd almost think Ms. Coulter had engineered the cancellation of her speech herself. (In fact, a lot of people think she did.)

On the issue of the appropriateness of the letter, it's extremely clear to me that the U of O authorities revealed their biases. I can't imagine they'd issue such a letter to (a) Michael Moore, or (b) the speakers who showed up for Israeli Apartheid Week. I can't imagine what was in their heads. That Ann Coulter, a fading right-wing professional provocateuse, might corrupt the morals of the young? It was the wrong thing to do strategically, politically and morally, and I think the CAUT (Canadian Association of University Teachers), which is very big on free speech, ought to censure them. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Paul Saurette: In my view, there are absolutely no grounds to argue that Ann Coulter should be banned from Canada, a University, or anywhere else for that matter. And I am very glad that she wasn't banned either by the government (as has happened to others in the past) or by the University. I teach her work in my class, frankly, and I would be horrified if I thought that wasn't encouraged.

Furthermore, I couldn't agree more that this has been a publicity bonanza for Ms. Coulter. Everyone knows that one of the fastest way to the top of the charts is to have someone try to ban your material. It worked for the Sex Pistols. And it works for Ms. Coulter. And this, I think, should be a strategic lesson for everyone across the political spectrum. The best way to deal with all types of speech which are not truly inciting genocide is to find other ways to challenge those views. Banning almost never works.

It seems a little bit hard to believe that someone who is both such a flashpoint and who has absolutely no trouble dealing with the toughest critics would actually be substantially cowed. She can certainly throw a punch and take a punch. So it seems a bit hard to believe that she was actually cowed by the letter.

But it seems to me that you raise two more subtle issues as well. Did the letter (or other actions) really have a chilling effect? And are these standards applied unequally?

On the second one - I have no idea. It is a fair point to raise and I'm sure there will be more discussion of it - especially if Ms. Coulter decides to move forward with some official complaint.

On the first one - I am more than open to listening to people when they claim that informal measures have been used to chill their speech. These things happen and sometimes they have quite powerful effects. On this, frankly, both the left and the right agree wholeheartedly and they both roundly critique the mainstream media as privileging the other side and informally oppressing their side. In fact, much of the logic of Ms. Coulter's critique of her treatment by liberals (and the University) is precisely that these sorts of informal biases exist. After all, it was neither the police nor the university who shut down the event but the organizers. As such, it wasn't an issue of 'banning' nor of any official power being used to stop Ms. Coulter from speaking but rather an issue of whether other types of speech had informally had secondary effects which forced the organizers to cancel the event.

Do I think that the letter could reasonably be read as chilling Ms. Coulter's ability to speak?

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