Precautionary speech

Ann Coulter received a (polite ) reminder to watch her p’s and q’s in advance of a speaking tour of several Canadian universities recently. The notorious loudmouth/pundit was encouraged to “weigh” her words “with respect and civility in mind”. But just to make it abundantly clear that this otherwise unctuosly-worded message wasn’t just a velvet glove caressing her cheek, there was also a (perhaps not-so-subtle) reference to the Criminal Code.

Ultimately, it’s hard to decide whether this resonates more of George Orwell or Monty Python. It probably doesn’t matter. Canadian universities have become more-or-less equal parts absurd on freedom of speech questions. One group’s “freedom” (see if you can figure out which one is which) is another’s hate crime.

Francois Houle, a bumptiously-titled functionary at the University of Ottawa took pains to let Coulter know that we practice a kind of freedom of speech “lite” on this side of the 49th parallel, not to be confused with the actual thing they may take for granted down there.

Among other things, it’s embarrassing that a supposedly informed academic would issue this message to anyone, much less a public figure. What’s troubling is how blithely he sidesteps the other freedoms mentioned in the constitution, “…freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression “[emphasis added]. It’s as if some giant “only if you’re nice, not hurtful” caveat was recently inserted. Well, thus far, it wasn’t, much to the dismay of the terminally sensitive among us.

Here’s what he has to say further about our right of free speech in Canada: “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.” Get it? We viewit as a fundamental freedom? It’s not an actual right, certainly not ahead of, you know, civility.

I’m no fan of Ann Coulter, but she appears to have shown admirable restraint in not responding to this officious nitwit. Much as I’d love to hear her fire both barrels his way, the result could be, you know, not “nice”.

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