Amici Curiae: The Camel on a Flying Carpet, Pink Army, and Veil Edition

Coulter v Canada

“Our usually calm Canadian neighbors are screaming at each other and one American woman has everything to do with it,” the Associated Press declared this week in its coverage of the Ann Coulter affair. Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly called protesters’ behaviour “un-Canadian.” Ezra Levant agreed. Now several days after the infamous letter, the camel comment and the cancellation, debate is shifting away from Coulter to the University of Ottawa’s actions and the extent to which Canada tolerates unpopular speech. (The back story on Coulter and UofO, for anyone who was underground for the past week, is now available on Wikipedia.)

For her part, Coulter has been scathing in her criticism of the university, focusing on François Houle (or, in her words, “Frank A. Hole“), the school’s provost and author of the letter. “Either Francois goes to jail or the Human Rights Commission is a hoax and a fraud,” Coulter, who intends to file a human rights complaint against the university, said on her blog. (We haven’t come across any blawgs addressing the merits of any such complaint, but links are welcome.)

Others, however, have been more tempered in their respons, though both liberals and conservatives seem united in their criticism that the University of Ottawa badly erred in its handling of the speech. Peter Worthington, writing over at FrumForum, argues that “[a]lmost any opinion can be voiced at U.S. colleges these days — but not in Canada.” He asks: “As reflected by Mr. Houle, why are we so fearful of free speech? So politically correct, so uneasy that Canadians are incapable of thinking for themselves and must be guided, protected, controlled? And punished if we deviate?”

Blogging for The Globe and Mail, Tim Powers, who has taught at UofO, said he found the administration’s actions “atrocious and amateurish.” The whole episode has cast Coulter as “the victim of the left-wing establishment who tried to muzzle her often muddy musings,” Powers argues. “They should have let her speak. Now the university looks like it was repressing free speech and in fact they did. They created an unnecessary circus instead of simply letting the clown perform.” Margaret Wente agrees that the administration’s actions were “the wrong thing to do strategically, politically and morally” (though not legally), and suggested that the Canadian Association of University Teachers “ought to censure them.”

And, indeed, CAUT did criticize the university. The groups’ leaders said in a statement that they are “deeply disturbed” by the situation, adding that the administration’s “admonishing [Coulter] about speech rights in Canada raises serious questions about the University of Ottawa’s respect for freedom of expression and academic freedom.”

The university’s administration, however, continues to defend its actions. “We have a long history of hosting contentious and controversial speakers on our campus,” administrators said in a statement. They added, seemingly unaware that Coulter’s speech did not, in fact, take place, that “[l]ast night was no exception.” Coulter did, however, manage to speak to an audience in Calgary last night, where she said she was relieved to be in the “English-speaking part of Canada,” and said she planned to campaign for the U.S. to annex “everything from Calgary west.” 

Bill 94: Quebec Introduces Veil Ban

The provincial government of Quebec introduced “unprecedented legislation requiring Muslim women to show their faces in all government locations, including schools, hospitals and daycares,” The Globe and Mail reports. “The practice whereby … a person to whom services are being provided by the [government] show their face during the delivery of services is a general practice,” states the draft bill, which makes no explicit mention of head scarves or other coverings. “If an accommodation involves an adaptation of that practice and reasons of security, communication or identification warrant it, the accommodation must be denied.” Another provision states: “An accommodation must comply with the Charter of human rights and freedoms  …  in particular as concerns the right to gender equality and the principle of religious neutrality of the State whereby the State shows neither favour nor disfavour towards any particular religion or belief.”

Reaction thus far has been varied: While media reports indicate that the prime minister and opposition leader both support the measure, others have been more critical. The Montreal Gazette reports that Muslim leaders are predicting that “[b]arring women who wear the niqab from receiving government services or an education will chase them out of universities and the workplace, and into the shadows.” Over at the National Post, Chris Sellers has tried to parse Bill 94’s language and concludes that “the whole thing’s a bit inscrutable.” Adds Sellers: “Whatever Bill 94 means, though, I’m thoroughly uncomfortable with the impetus for it — which is nothing but ludicrously outsized xenophobia.” The Ottawa Citizen editorial board charges that “[t]he proposed law is a clumsy, politically-charged hammer.” It appears that the rest of the blawgosphere hasn’t quite tackled the issue yet, but no doubt that will change in the coming days.

Gay Dutch Soldiers Contemplate Class Against U.S. General

A Dutch political strategist has launched the “Pink Army” movement and is looking for gay soldiers to sue a retired American general, who last week blamed the Netherlands’ inclusion of gays in the military for the Srebrenica massacre, The Advocate reports. Marine Corps Gen. John Sheehan made the charge during a Congressional hearing as he argued against ending the Pentagon’s ban on openly-gay soldiers (see video).

The general recounted that Dutch leaders, including the country’s former army chief of staff, had told him the presence of openly-gay soldiers among the country’s 400-strong contingent had been “part of the problem” that led to the fall of Srebrenica, and the subsequent massacre by Bosnian Serb forces of 8,000 Muslim men and boys, the National Post reported. “The battalion was under-strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone polls, marched the Muslims off and executed them,” Sheehan testified. He made no criticism, however, of the Canadian Forces, where openly gay soldiers have served since the 1990s. Meanwhile, Eric Lipman of LegalBlogWatch reports that the Pentagon will slow its discharges of gay personnel while it studies a potential repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

U.S. Appellate Court Backs Extraterritorial Application of Child Sex Trafficking Laws

The U.S. Court of Appeal for the Eleventh Circuit recently ruled that an American statute outlawing the “purchase” of a minor “with intent to promote … the engaging in of sexually explicit conduct … affecting interstate or foreign commerce” has extraterritorial applicability, Roger Alford reports for Opinio Juris. The case involves a U.S. citizen and resident who was detained in Cambodia by the Cambodian police on suspicion of violating Cambodian laws against child sex prostitution. During his detention by Cambodian authorities, the man admitted that he had paid minors to take sexually-explicit photographs of them and to have sex with them.

An American immigration and customs agent watched, but did not participate in, the interrogation, which eventually led to the U.S. charges. As Alford explains the court’s ruling, “The language of [the statute] requiring travel in foreign commerce, the broad sweep warranted by child pornography offenses, and Congress’s repeated efforts to prevent exploiters of children from evading criminal punishment demonstrate that Congress intended [the statute] to apply extraterritorially. Moreover, such an intent is consistent with international law, which permits jurisdiction under the ‘nationality’ principle.”

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