Tickets sold out within 15 minutes after Toronto’s Munk Debates announced that I would debate Steve Bannon on its platform. The negative reaction arrived more slowly, but it was just as emphatic. A few days before the debate, a member of Parliament for Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party called for its cancellation. The rest of the party—the third-largest in Parliament—later signaled agreement with the no-platform demand.
The Munk Debates hold a special place in Canadian public life. For more than a decade, they have brought the learned, the preeminent, and the notorious to Toronto’s 2,800-seat symphony hall to test controversial ideas before a highly informed audience. Never before, though, had they ignited the fierce controversy that exploded around the scheduled debate between Bannon and me.
Over the next hours, I took calls from television and radio bookers: Would I come on their show to defend the debate?
I declined, again and again. I’d written an answer, and I wanted to deliver it once—at the debate itself. Some did not want to hear that answer or any other. They decided to shut down the debate by force and threat. They tried to block the entrance to the debate venue, then harassed attendees as they sought to enter. One police officer was punched in the face. Fear that protesters would slip into the event obliged the organizers to search every bag and wand every entrant—delaying the start time by 45 minutes. Even with that delay, many ticket holders were unable to take their seats. One protester nevertheless noisily managed to disrupt Bannon’s opening statement, before being drowned out by audience applause and removed by police.