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Jules Hirst, Etiquette Expert

1st Amendment and Etiquette… Only in the U.S

Last week, con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor, Ann Coul­ter, had a speech can­celled at the Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa because of pro­tes­tors and I couldn’t stop think­ing about it. Which side was right? Should the speech have been cancelled?

The job of a polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor is to not only get your point across but also to make sure that point is remem­bered. Ann Coul­ter makes some out­ra­geous com­ments. Does she believe them? Absolutely. Could she word them dif­fer­ently? Prob­a­bly, but then you wouldn’t be remem­bered and in com­men­tary, con­tro­versy sells.

The Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa invited Coul­ter to speak on cam­pus. By extend­ing the invi­ta­tion, the uni­ver­sity should have been aware of Coulter’s rep­u­ta­tion for out­ra­geous com­ments and been pre­pared for it. In fact, a mem­ber of the aca­d­e­mic coun­sel sent Coul­ter a let­ter to remind her that Canada has laws regard­ing hate speech and she could face charges for her com­ments. So, obvi­ously some­one was aware what might be said.

When going to a for­eign coun­try, you need to be respect­ful of their laws and cus­toms. Liv­ing in Amer­ica, we take our free­doms and the first amend­ment for granted. When we leave the coun­try, we must remem­ber that these free­doms and pro­tec­tions do not go with us and we must abide by the rules and laws of the coun­try we are vis­it­ing. Ann Coul­ter should have been aware of this when she accepted the invi­ta­tion and real­ized that she should tone down her speech to be within the law.

Col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties should encour­age ideas and be places where dif­fer­ent view­points and opin­ions can be expressed. By can­celling the speech, the Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa did just the oppo­site. They were guilty of cen­sor­ship. They used the guise of safety – because of the pro­tes­tors it wouldn’t be safe for Ann Coul­ter to speak – and decided to cen­sor her opinions.

So, who is right? The school should have known what they were get­ting when they booked Ann Coul­ter. Ann Coul­ter should have known about the Cana­dian laws and pre­pared accord­ingly. Did she? Prob­a­bly not because if she were charged, it would add to her publicity.

 In the end, I think the Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa and its stu­dents are the losers. The pro-Coulter stu­dents lost because they didn’t get to hear her speech. The anti-Coulter stu­dents lost because they cen­sored free speech and obvi­ously have learned noth­ing in their stud­ies – unless they’re major­ing in run­ning dic­ta­tor­ships. Finally, the school lost because they tried to shut down Ann Coul­ter and have only made her stronger. After all this con­tro­versy, Ann Coul­ter keeps her name in the news and the requests for her appear­ances keep rolling in. Her books keep sell­ing and her bank account keeps ris­ing. Well played Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts.…

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