The President of the University of Ottawa, Allan Rock, has broken his silence on what he thinks about the cancelled Ann Coulter speaking engagement on March 23. The visit is said to have been cancelled by Ms.Coulter’s organizers when angry student protesters showed up to block her from speaking and there were some concerns for her safety.
The incident made a mockery of the free speech debate, and fans of Ann Coulter were angry that the engagement had to be cancelled, blaming an incendiary email from University Provost Francois Houle. Mr.Houle had welcomed the American Conservative in a letter also sent to media organizations, while at the same time warning her that Canada has strict laws on hate speech and that she could face criminal prosecution if she violated those laws.
In retaliation, Ms.Coulter has been reported as launching a Human Rights complaint that Mr.Houle incited hatred against an identifiable group. In her case, that would be conservatives. She also denigrated the University in her typical joking style, before moving on to the University of Calgary, which went ahead without further incident.
Mr.Rock, had previously served in the Cabinet of Jean Chrétien, most notably as Justice Minister and Health Minister, before beginning his jobs as University of Ottawa President on July 15, 2008.
He said recently in an interview that his first instinct was to defend the University publicly, but decided to wait and “reflect” on the matter for several weeks. He had initially been approached by the students’ association to stop the Coulter speech, but refused. He did, however, attempt to learn more about her and found himself “using intemperate language” when discussing what he had seen on her website.
He then admitted that Mr.Houle went ahead with his letter to Ms.Coulter with full authorization from Mr.Rock.
“It was sent on behalf of the administration with my knowledge, so I share responsibility,” Rock said. “I acknowledge that there were other and better ways of achieving the letter’s purpose.”
How nice of him to admit his share of responsibility, though he let Francois Houle take the brunt of that responsibility for the past month. Since he green-lighted the letter as President of the University, one might even say he owns more than just a share of responsibility for the patronizing and admonishing pre-crime warning sent to Ms.Coulter. It is especially interesting to note that Mr.Rock claims to be so unaware of the political presence that Ann Coulter holds in the United States, yet he decided to become involved in an official rebuke of her political views.
There’s no slipping out of this one. Saying that “there were other and better ways of achieving the letter’s purpose” is refusing to apologize for the situation that he and Mr.Houle directly created.