“Free” Speech and “Positive Spaces” in Canada
A rowdy crowd (notice that, in the interest of avoiding “hate” speech, I didn’t say “mob”) succeeded in preventing Ann Coulter from speaking at the University of Ottawa Tuesday evening. Is it too obvious, by the way, to point out the irony that “hatred”, the offense that Ann Coulter is purportedly guilty of, was not lacking on the part of those who so vigorously opposed her speech? Perhaps, if he is finished instructing Ms. Coulter as to what she can and cannot say, University of Ottawa Vice-President François Houle can clarify under what circumstances hatred and hate speech are acceptable.
But the gem of the story from the Ottawa Citizen is in bold.
Rita Valeriano was one of several protesters inside the hall who, with chants of “Coulter go home!”, shouted down the International Free Press Society of Canada organizer who was addressing the crowd.
Valeriano, a 19-year-old sociology and women’s studies student, said later that she was happy Coulter was unable to speak the “hatred” she had planned to.
“On campus, we promise our students a safe and positive space,” she said.
First of all, there’s the incongruity of the stated goal of a “safe and positive” campus with the “welcome” given to Ann Coulter, which seemed neither positive nor particularly safe. Secondly, should this even be a goal for a university? Ms. Valeriano’s description conveys an unhealthy cross between Sesame Street and Stepford Town. Sesame Street is fine for children. But isn’t it better for young adults to begin learning that the world is not always a safe and positive place? Further, and perhaps most importantly, what is being filtered out to achieve that goal?
Minimally, for one evening, it appears that speech was filtered. Under that circumstance, “safe and positive” can quickly restrict learning and even free thinking. This would be counter-productive, to say no worse, for an institution of higher learning.