Before Ann Coulter had stepped foot on Canadian soil, the war of words was on. For those of you who have been living under a rock since 9/11, Coulter is an extreme right-wing American commentator and author, well known for her controversial ideologies. She is currently in Canada to deliver speeches at 3 universities in Eastern Canada.
Before her arrival, University of Ottawa provost Francois Houle sent her an email, asking her to review Canada’s hate speech and defamation laws before opening her mouth. Failure to abide, Houle warned, “could in fact lead to criminal charges”.
There are, of course, two (or more) sides to this. Coulter, in my not so humble opinion, is a hatemongering bigot, always eager to spew her extremist bile on anyone in range. She has openly called for the killing of all Muslim leaders, believes that environmentalism is an affront to the Lord, supports torture and public flogging, and, perhaps most relevant to this particular subject, thinks that Canadians should be grateful that we are allowed “to exist on the same continent” (as the U.S.). She should not be surprised that, in a country she has loudly criticized and that does not see all brown, gay or non-Christian people as the enemy, she may be told to watch her mouth.
As nauseous as it makes me, however, I must defend Coulter, just this once. The Canada I know prides itself on its lack of censorship and our willingness to let all sides speak. While we do have hate speech laws, they are largely ignored (excepting cases similar to Coulter’s, which is a separate post unto itself). We are much more likely to humorously mock opinions we find distasteful than to warn and threaten those spouting them. What is it about Coulter that gets people panicking, as if her vitriol is so much more powerful than Canadian culture itself? As if 3 speeches will forever alter our lives, and as such, must be censored? Do we really lack confidence in ourselves to such an extent that obviously extremist punditry is seen as a threat to our way of lives?
Relax, Canada. Most of us, it’s safe to assume, are going to walk away from Coulter’s speeches rolling our eyes and mocking her absurdity. A few of us will be sincerely offended, and even fewer will be cheering her on. In a week, she will be back in the U.S., calling for the carpet-bombing of the Middle East, and life in Canada will go on as usual. No harm, no foul.
What will harm us, however, is the reputation of censoring and threatening anyone who has a controversial opinion. We have the rare opportunity right now to stand united against Coulter’s bigotry. Let her speak; let her loudly and obnoxiously share her insanely bigoted views on the world. Show her that we welcome all viewpoints, no matter how narrow or hate-filled, and when she sums up her rambling attacks on everyone from homosexuals to the French, laugh. Laugh hysterically at her audacity, at her hypocrisy, at her pitiful ignorance. Let her know that, while all views are allowed to be voiced, they are not all to be taken seriously. Coulter’s views are no threat to us, unless we allow them to be.