Security concerns in Ottawa may have silenced the controversial views of Ann Coulter, but Thursday night the American right-wing commentator teed off on freedom of speech to an appreciative audience in Calgary.
Introducing herself as a "best-selling author and hate-crimes victim," Ms. Coulter told close to 1,000 people who flocked to the University of Calgary, "they wanted to get someone more controversial, but [Iranian president]Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was unavailable."
Ms. Coulter, who gained notoriety after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when she suggested Muslim countries should be invaded and converted to Christianity, is enjoying fresh ammunition and a sudden spike in interest on all sides of the political spectrum after the firestorm that erupted at the University of Ottawa earlier this week.
The Calgary event, originally set for a 400-seat campus lecture theatre, was moved to a larger venue. The event attracted a few dozen protesters, heightened security and new questions around freedom of speech.
Those registered were alerted by e-mail of the venue change, enhanced security measures banning backpacks and large purses, as well as strict rules regarding conduct.
"While there will be a Q&A to ensure open, intellectual discussion between attendees of the event and Ann Coulter, the Question and Answer period will be moderated, and any sort of ranting, heckling, or otherwise disrupting of the event will result in removal by security and/or police," wrote event organizer, the Canadian branch of the International Free Press Society. "As well, individuals caught recording this event will be removed."
Ticket holder Marshall Horne, who is pursing his PhD at the school's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, criticized the missive.
"I find it extremely hypocritical that an organization that heralds free speech, hosting an event on the merits of free speech, will be forcibly limiting the free speech of all of its attendees," he said.
"It sounds to me that IFPS-Canada has finally realized there are limits on what a person can say - and how they can say it - in public places, and is attempting to protect Ms. Coulter from any hate speech she may receive," he added.
Student organizer Matt Gelinas said the note was merely meant to ensure civil behaviour, not stifle free speech.
Protesters Shawna Jimenez and her 18-year-old daughter, Marisa, arrived carrying homemade banners. One read, "Canadians say go home u racist pig!"
"I think it's despicable that she's here speaking," said Ms. Jimenez, adding she came to show Calgary isn't a "right-wing city."
Some detractors pounded on windows and shattered a door attempting to disrupt the speech.
But 26-year-old Kyle Thorpe, clad in a T-shirt that read "free speech against free hate," was polite as he waited for the event. He said he came to hear Ms. Coulter's perspectives, as "irrational and illogical" as they may be.
Ms. Coulter received a warning from the provost at the University of Ottawa reminding her of Canadian hate laws, a letter she interpreted as a gag order and threat of criminal prosecution. Although there is some dispute over who pulled the plug - event organizers, security staff or police - Ms. Coulter's Tuesday night speech did not go ahead. More than 1,500 people showed up at the university to a venue that could barely hold a third of them. Protests were loud, but police described the crowd as peaceful.
Ms. Coulter, who called the university "bush league," posted on her blog that she would file a human rights complaint and suggested the university's letter led to threats to her safety.
In a letter, the Canadian Association of University Teachers defended freedom of expression and demanded the provost in Ottawa apologize to Ms. Coulter.
When she arrived in Calgary, a bastion of conservatism where the university issued no similar warning to watch her tongue, Ms. Coulter told reporters, "already I feel safer."
In introducing Ms. Coulter last night, Calgary lawyer and conservative activist Ezra Levant praised Calgary for its tolerance of diversity and free speech.
"Ann Coulter is a controversial speaker and frankly that's the point," he said to applause.