How Free is Freedom of Speech in Canada?

March 26, 2010 | NeW Staff

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

In the United States, thanks to the 45 glorious words above, individuals enjoy the privilege of free speech. Free speech includes political dissent, unreasonable ideas, and occasionally offensive ideas. However, ideas that may not be popular are necessary and serve a purpose in our society. In addition, I would argue that it is better to be subjected to 100 unreasonable ideas if it meant I would gain 1 significant thought. If you censor speech, you risk losing out on something that might change the world. 

But not all countries are like the United States. Some individuals in Canada harbor much different views. 

This past week Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak at the University of Ottawa. Before she even arrived to deliver her speech, she received a letter from the University’s Provost Francois Houle. In the letter Houle asserts Canada has a different view on freedom of speech from the U.S. He warns that should Coulter fail to educate herself on Canada’s version of “freedom of speech,” Coulter might find herself facing “criminal charges.” Further, Houle writes:

There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this university, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and urge you to respect that Canadian tradition while on our campus. Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion, but to a more meaningful, reasoned and intelligent one as well.


Translation: Don’t espouse any ideas we may not agree with. 

If the University of Ottawa is so interested in controlling (theoretical) hate speech, they should start with their own (non-theoretical) student body’s hate speech. 

Coulter made several other stops during her time in Canada, including the University of Calgary. Coulter’s Calgary speech was not stopped, although protesters met attendees at the door. A Calgary student, Harries – 19, was quoted in the Ottawa Citizen as saying: 

I am really appalled and disappointed in Calgary and Calgarians that she was allowed to come here, she was allowed to speak and that more people didn’t come out to protest.

Translation: I heard from my roommate that Coulter wants to kill polar bears and eats babies for lunch. I think more people aren’t here because they decided to study for their classes next week. 

In actuality Canada’s Universities did Coulter a big favor: on top of giving her practically relentless publicity this week, they gave her the upper hand. Houle’s letter was arrogant and uncouth. It is now clear the University of Ottawa only permits information approved by the majority of students and faculty to be disseminated on campus. This incident not only portrayed the school in a negative light, but the University really did it’s students a disservice. What might have been a discussion, or even debate, of ideas was stamped out before anyone could benefit from it. Higher education should promote the exchange of ideas, yet it appears University of Ottawa doesn’t believe in such silly and “hateful” things.
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