A day after she was chased away from an Ottawa campus by rowdy crowds, the University of Calgary is giving American pundit Ann Coulter a bigger venue to air her extreme brand of right-wing politics, saying part of its role is to "promote the free exchange of ideas."
Ms. Coulter, a skilled political agitator, has hit the jackpot on her three-campus visit to Canada. Her planned appearance earlier this week at the University of Ottawa was cancelled because of security concerns after an estimated 1,500 people showed up at a lecture hall with roughly 400 seats.
That cancellation - and an advance note from the school's provost advising her to mind her words in case she risk criminal charges for hate speech - has unleashed a firestorm, especially among conservative commentators, and renewed the debate over freedom of expression on campus. As the tour moves from Ontario to Calgary, it also holds the potential of exposing yet again the political east-west divide of the nation.
"I've never heard of Calgary shutting anyone down. The worst we'll do is ignore someone," said Ezra Levant, a Calgary-based author, lawyer and conservative thinker who was asked to introduce Ms. Coulter on her Canadian tour. He called the Calgary stop a welcome homecoming.
Calgary, known for its true-blue conservative ideals, was the first city former U.S. president George W. Bush visited last year after he left the White House. While there were some protesters outside the venue and security was tight, there were no major incidents. Even when the G8 summit was held in nearby Kananaskis Country in 2002, protests were small, mellow and trouble-free, unlike raucous events that marred similar international meetings in Seattle and Quebec City.
The University of Ottawa faced an onslaught of criticism Wednesday after the cancellation of Ms. Coulter's talk. President Allan Rock refused interviews, but issued a short statement late in the day, noting that the event was cancelled by her own organizers.
"Freedom of expression is a core value that the University of Ottawa has always promoted," Mr. Rock said in the statement. "We have a long history of hosting contentious and controversial speakers on our campus. Last night was no exception …"
Mr. Rock's statement made no reference to the provost Francois Houle's warning, singled out by Ms. Coulter as part of the cause of the angry crowds that opposed her speaking Tuesday night.
"I would like to know if any Muslim has been treated this badly, at least since the Reformation, because I am drawing a blank," Ms. Coulter told The Globe and Mail after the talk was cancelled.
The decision to cancel the talk was cheered by some of her opponents. "I was just worried that things were going to be said about certain groups of people that were going to make them feel very unsafe and very uncomfortable," a student protester said.
Toronto lawyer Frank Addario, who has defended many free speech cases, called the events at the University of Ottawa an embarrassment to Canada. "It shows an immaturity and a misunderstanding of the basic precepts of free speech," he said. "The provost has a duty to encourage free speech, not to encourage those who would prevent it or censor it - there is never a shortage of those people."
McGill ethicist Margaret Somerville, who was once advised by a university to wear flat shoes in case she had to run, said groups on campuses have become skilled at silencing debate. "I think it is extraordinarily dangerous," she said.
An appearance by Ms. Coulter earlier in the week at the University of Western Ontario packed an auditorium, including some hecklers. President Amit Chakma said school police met in advance with the person handling Ms. Coulter's security, but the university did not contact her to discuss the content of the talk.
University of Calgary provost Alan Harrison told reporters at a hastily called news conference that the school had "significantly augmented" security plans in light of what happened in Ottawa. Her address was moved to a room that can accommodate 800 people, from a lecture hall for 400.
"If we try to suppress people's views simply because we don't agree with them we're doing two things," he said. "We're acting contrary to what the university stands for, and also frankly, we're providing increased publicity for the person who's spreading those views. That's not our purpose. Our purpose is to give her the same respect that everybody else deserves."
Rainer Knopff, a political scientist at the University of Calgary who is known for his conservative views as part of the so-called Calgary School, helped arrange the event for organizers, although he's not familiar with Ms. Coulter's work. In light of what happened in Ottawa, he's not surprised by the increased interest in Calgary.
"We've tended at the University of Calgary so far to have contentious speakers get at least a civil reception on all sides of the political divide," Prof. Knopff said.
With a report from Steven Chase in Ottawa
Editor's Note: In a previous online version of this story, it was incorrectly stated that the University of Ottawa cancelled Ms. Coulter's event. This online version has been corrected.