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American conservative pundit Ann Coulter speaks in Calgary on March 25, 2010. (The Canadian Press)
American conservative pundit Ann Coulter speaks in Calgary on March 25, 2010. (The Canadian Press)

Gerald Caplan

The Canadians who embrace Ann Coulter Add to ...

Here's a couple of questions about Ann Coulter's Canadian sojourn that haven't yet been fully answered: Who invited her? Who thought Canadians needed more exposure to this woman?

Coulter clearly had a wonderful few days here. She got what she lives for: mass attention and irreconcilable controversy, which in turn leads to more media, more highly-paid speeches, more books sold.

If there's a silver lining to the debacle, it's the hope that more Canadians have been exposed to the kind of venom she routinely peddles. Hate, bigotry, cruelty and violence ooze out of her every pore, even when she smiles as the knife goes in.

Her Canadian hosts can have had no illusions about her views:

» Of four 9/11 widows whose politics Ms. Coulter didn't agree with: "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands deaths so much."

» "My only regret with [Oklahoma bombing terrorist]Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building".

» "All terrorists are Muslims," apparently suddenly forgetting the heroic Mr. McVeigh.

» She doesn't consider the murder of an American doctor who performed abortions as murder and in any event "I don't want to impose my moral values on others."

» Muslims - or "ragheads" - are "absolutely insane savages."

» For those who cheered 9/11, we should "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert their countries."

» "It would be better if we were all Christians."

» Question: "We should all throw Judaism away and all be Christians?" Answer: "Yeah."

» "Jews should be "perfected."

By any sane calculus, this is the bile of the lunatic fringe. In the United States, alas, it is now all but mainstream. Has Canada gone this far down the road to right-wing extremism?

So who were these supporters that believed Canada needed more Coulter? The main sponsors seem to have been the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute in the United States, a self-styled conservative organization working to make American women more conservative, and the International Free Press Society. What this society mainly seems to stand for is the right of anyone to say whatever they want about Muslims and Islam, however inflammatory, hateful, false and cuckoo.

The society's president is Lars Hedegaard, a Dane who has asserted that Muslim men rape their family members and see women only as birth machines. As so often happens with Muslim-bashers, when pressed on their wild generalizations they rush to explain they don't mean all Muslims - though they invariably begin by attacking all Muslims - and that there's a distinction between Muslims and Islam. Hedegaard believes the conflict between Islam and Western values "cannot be solved with a compromise. It's either our civilization or their non-civilization and barbarism. Our two ways of life are like fire and water. One of them must be victorious."

Conservative activist Ezra Levant announces the cancellation of a speech by U.S. pundit Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa on March 23, 2010.

Another board member is prominent Dutch politician Geert Wilders, a dangerous, raving (if charming) Islam-hater who, as The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders pointed out only last month, makes the same paranoid accusations against Muslims that the Nazis hurled against the Jews. "This is not to say that Geert Wilders is a Hitler or his followers are all racists," Mr. Saunders concluded. "But we shouldn't pretend that his core ideas are in any way reasonable, rational, freedom-loving or tolerant."

Ms. Coulter's speech at Ottawa University was booked by Laura McLennan, president of the campus conservative club, which claims 80 members; Ms. McLennan promised all 80 would attend the event. A private reception was also held at Ottawa's Rideau Club for $250 a pop; for a ticket, you contacted Ashley Scorpio, a staffer in the office of Conservative MP Gerald Keddy; Ms. Scorpio has also worked as an administrative assistant in Prime Minister Harper's office. Mr. Keddy denies any involvement of his office in Ms. Scorpio's activities on behalf of Ms. Coulter, and of course the Prime Minister's Office assures us it was equally uninvolved.

Ms. Coulter seems to have been invited to London, Ont., by Mary Lou Ambrogio on behalf of the International Free Press Society, while her speech at the University of Western Ontario was arranged by the Campus Coalition for Democracy, represented by two young London conservatives, Ari Fine and Andrew Lawton. According to Jonathan Sher in the London Free Press, Ms. Coulter was paid $10,000 for this appearance by the society, with "the balance of Coulter's fee" coming from the Luce Policy Institute in the United States. $25,000 a pop seems to be her going rate.

Ms. Ambrogio ran in London as a Conservative candidate in the 2008 election and was soundly defeated by the NDP. A Coulter fan, she does not believe the U.S. firebrand incites hatred.

Andrew Lawton is a full-time promoter of right-wing causes in London and is another big admirer of Ms. Coulter's. Ari Fine works with Mr. Lawton and is openly enamoured of both Ms. Coulter and another fine Coulter fan named Rush Limbaugh. Last week Mr. Fine called the daily Limbaugh radio show, and Mr. Limbaugh put him on to hear first-hand from someone who wasn't there about the Coulter fiasco at University of Ottawa. Mr. Fine, who does not know Ms. Coulter personally, told the booming radio host she is "one of the most generally decent human beings you'll ever meet." Mr. Limbaugh could not agree more, then asked Mr. Fine how the health system in Canada was working. "Rush," Mr. Fine told his old chum, "it's just an unmitigated disaster."

A common thread running through Ms. Coulter's tour was the presence of the ubiquitous Ezra Levant, Canadian conservative extraordinaire. Mr. Levant is a zealous free-speech advocate, especially for those who criticize Islam, the more extreme the better. Mr. Levant enthusiastically welcomed Ann Coulter to Canada and accompanied her everywhere, but supported the Harper government when it denied entrance into Canada for British MP George Galloway. "I don't see this as a free speech issue," Mr. Levant wrote, "I see it as a sovereignty issue, keeping out an undesirable foreigner who has no right to be here." I happen to find Mr. Galloway a twisted thug, but more undesirable than Ms. Coulter?

Mr. Levant harshly attacked me on this website for my criticism of the Israeli government and of the Harper government for exploiting and cheapening anti-Semitism for partisan purposes. But I seem to have missed his condemnation of the government's delay in granting a visa last week to Palestinian peace activist Mustafa Barghouti, forcing the last-minute cancellation of Mr. Barghouti's three-city speaking tour of Canada. Like most of his fellow "free speech" champs, Mr. Levant cherry picks whose free speech he thinks is worth championing.

What does it tell us about all these Canadian conservatives and Conservatives who brought her to us, that they consider Ann Coulter a voice Canada needs to hear more of? The mind boggles.

Gerald Caplan is a former New Democratic Party national campaign director and is author of The Betrayal of Africa

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