at the website of the international Free Press Society-Canada, which hosted Ann Coulter’s trip to Canada, is a
by Rick Benoit of VP Protection, Inc, Toronto, who was responsible for Coulter’s security at the University of Calgary event last month. While Coulter’s Calgary speech went off successfully and without incident, unlike at the University of Ottawa two days earlier where her speech had to be canceled because of the disorder created by protesters, the real trouble began after her speech was over. That story was not told in the media reports on Coulter’s tour of Canada, and only emerged as a result of Benoit’s letter.
Here is the long and short of it of it. In a meeting prior to the event, campus security personnel and Calgary police told Coulter’s protective detail that they would not screen the audience entering the event. They told the protective detail that they would not arrest anyone unless the person used actual violence. If a person held a chair above his head threatening to throw it, that would not be grounds for arrest. Instead, the police told the protective detail that they, the protective detail, would be arrested if they laid a hand on any protester. Then campus security, after promising that they would protect Coulter’s vehicle where it was parked outside the speaking venue during her speech, allowed a mob of protesters to surround the vehicle. Plans to attack Coulter’s party were heard coming from that crowd. After the speech was over, Coulter’s party could not get to the vehicle without pushing their way through the threatening crowd, and the police and campus security refused to remove the crowd. In addition to being dangerous, any attempt to get to the vehicle would inevitably lead to the protective detail making physical contact with the protesters, for which the protective detail would be arrested. So Coulter’s party remained in the building, not knowing what to do next. After a while the crowd around the vehicle dispersed. Then Coulter’s party left without incident.
Now consider this. Supposedly Canadians were extremely embarrassed about the most un-Canadian disorder at the University of Ottawa two days earlier, and wanted to assure that the rest of Coulter’s trip went peacefully. But instead the authorities at Calgary behaved as described.
Here is Rick Benoit’s letter. I have edited it slightly for formatting and punctuation.
On March 20, 2010 I was hired as part of a Protective Detail team of four, for IFPS Canada’s free speech event at the University of Calgary. This event came on the heels of a similar event at Ottawa University, an event that was cancelled due to lack of safe conduct for the main speaker, Ann Coulter. IFPS Canada and its President, Bjorn Larsen, had decided to take extra precautions after the Ottawa event, where lack of a secure location made it unsafe to continue the event.
Our task should have been a simple one. We were there for the purpose of protecting the principal speakers and organizers from any physical harm.
Close to 1,000 individuals poured into a lecture hall where University Campus Security watched over them with the assistance of the Calgary Police Service. Outside the hall, there remained a few more “supporters” of the event, clad in KKK garb, as well as an angry crowd of protesters who were clad in a mixed array of attire—niqabs, balaclavas, and other similar articles of clothing, donned it seems, to mask their identities/hide their faces while they shouted and chanted threats, denouncing the event.
We, the Protective Detail, attended the University of Calgary shortly before noon to meet with the directors of Campus Security. Both individuals we met with were very professional and kindly showed us around the entire facility at our request. In fact, pretty much every request we made was graciously accommodated. It was when we started discussing the “what if” scenarios of the evening program that really gave insight as to what we were going to be up against.
It was explained to us in no uncertain terms, that Campus Security personnel could not and would not, remove any unruly patrons or spectators from the event unless they displayed obvious signs of violent behaviour—holding a chair over one’s head threatening to throw it was simply not enough … Worse, this protocol was supported by the Crisis Management Team that was also in attendance while we conducted our fact finding mission in order to implement a security plan. In my opinion I liken this to closing the barn door after the horse has left. Good luck on getting the horse back into the barn!
Because the number of individuals planning on attending the event had skyrocketed from 450 registrants to 900 and knowing full well that the event had the potential to “go wrong,” the next obvious line of questioning asked by us was regarding the “screening process” for entrants coming into the hall. What did they have in place? Would they be conducting bag searches, pat downs, wanding the individuals for weapons search? We were looked at with incredulous faces and received the answer “no” to every question asked. We were told that actions such as these would infringe upon the attendees rights (mostly students of the University), and certainly also go against the grain of privacy laws; therefore we were informed that no screening would take place at all.
Even after a careful explanation of our concerns for the safety of the people we were there to protect, they would not be swayed in the decision. They absolutely would not interfere with the rights of their students attending the event. What about the safety of the others who would be attending the event? What about the rights of those who didn’t plan on inciting violent behaviour? Wouldn’t a proactive approach be much better than a reactive one? To make matters worse were told that if any of our people laid a hand on anyone at the event, for any reason, we would be charged and face criminal prosecution.
It was clear to us, from the way the message was relayed, that the directive was coming from a much greater power than that of those who were delivering the message; Senior Police Officials, Senior Campus Officials, or maybe even Senior Politicians … No one really knew quite where the message was coming from but the end result was clear—hands off at any cost or face criminal prosecution should you challenge the directive.
It became very clear that we, the Protective Detail, would have our hands full at this event. We would have to balance political correctness with the preservation of our clients” safety. Now armed with a clear understanding of where we stood on all counts; building layout/rules/regulations etc., we set out from the campus, reconvened elsewhere, and put a plan into place.
Our arrival to the event surprised the patrons and protesters alike as we pulled up, swiftly exited our vehicles and entered the building through less obvious means than the main entrance door, thus avoiding contact with the public altogether. Our vehicles were positioned behind barricades which were being guarded by Campus Security personnel, and we were assured that our vehicles would be safe and looked after as we hustled towards our entranceway.
Tampering with vehicles, malicious damage, or even a planned attack around the principals’ vehicle is always a concern for any Protective Detail, so just to make absolutely certain that our vehicles were safe, the topic was discussed with the Officer in Charge. He too assured us that our vehicles would be taken care of and kept safe.
He was correct! Our vehicles were looked after alright, by about 50 “battle ready” protesters who had surrounded our vehicles circling about them plotting and planning their mode of attack for when we should return to our SUVs.
During the Q&A session which was towards the end of the evening, a note was passed to the Protective Detail explaining the potentially explosive situation that was brewing outside. Attack plans were overheard by people who were milling about outside amongst the protesters. Not to worry, however. We were advised that a plan had been formulated, and they would be able to move the main principal safely out of the event hall.
The first problem with this note was that although there was indeed one main principal (Ann Coulter), we had three other principals that were under our protection. The second problem was that “the plan” was only a partial plan. Once the main principal was moved out of the event hall, they were still at a loss as to how they going to get her (never mind the rest of us waiting in limbo!) to her vehicle without confrontation with the protesters outside.
The intended plan of the Campus Security and the Calgary Police Service was this. Their recommendation was to move the main principal out of the hall, under Police guard, to an alternate location near the main venue, while two members of our detail obtained the principal vehicles, meaning they would have to make their way through the crowd of protesters, and make their way back (seemingly undetected?), to the alternate location.
When I read their plan I felt as though we were being set up to fail. I reminded Calgary Police Service and Campus Security that we had been instructed on what would happen should any of our Team Members lay a hand on anyone; engage in physical confrontation with anyone—we would be the ones arrested and charged. In the plan they gave us we would have walked right into a volatile situation had we retrieved our cars in the midst of all the protesters.
The Calgary Police and the Campus Security personnel refused to move the protesters away from our vehicles.
I submit that by planning an attack against us and surrounding our vehicles, violence was imminent and the Calgary Police and Campus Security should have cleared our vehicles, so that we could make safe passage. However they did not, so we decided to move the principals (all of them), into a safe room to formulate a better plan than the one that was given to us. This tactic worked well because during the wait of our deliberation, most of the protesters grew bored and left the vicinity of the vehicles. That being the case, our Protective Detail decided the best course of action was to move all the principals to the vehicles (where we had left them upon arrival), by a swift and direct path thus avoiding the previously suggested splitting up of principals and as well the secondary location.
When we made our exit, only a handful of protesters remained. Calgary Police and Campus Security personnel stood on a nearby hill and watched as we exited the building and entered into our vehicles. We were able to drive away without any altercation.
The officers on the ground were governed by politics; told not to get involved, unless acts of violence and or property damage were actually witnessed.
I submit again that a reactive response is much more detrimental that a proactive response. Law enforcement officials need to be proactive in situations such as these to make the experience much safer for all involved—speakers and attendees alike.
[end of Benoit letter]
James P. writes: