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Steven Galloway is photographed at the University of British Columbia in 2014. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Steven Galloway is photographed at the University of British Columbia in 2014. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Atwood, Ondaatje call for probe into firing of UBC prof Add to ...

Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and more than 60 other members of the Canadian literary community have signed an open letter to UBC demanding due process for Steven Galloway and an investigation into how the university has handled his case.

“The University’s conduct in this matter is of great concern,” reads the letter, which is signed by a long list of Canadian literary luminaries, including Jane Urquhart, Miriam Toews and Elizabeth Hay. It is also signed by Louise Dennys, executive publisher and executive vice-president at Penguin Random House Canada, Mr. Galloway’s publisher.

Mr. Galloway was fired in June by UBC, where he had been chair of the creative writing program. Last November, he was suspended with pay due to what the university called “serious allegations.”

The letter calls for UBC to establish an independent investigation into how the matter has been handled.

“There is growing evidence that the University acted irresponsibly in Professor Galloway’s case,” the letter states. “Because the case has received a great deal of public attention, the situation requires public clarification.”

Read more: How UBC's Steven Galloway affair has haunted a campus and changed lives

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The letter was a group effort led by Joseph Boyden, the award-winning author of The Orenda, Through Black Spruce and Three Day Road.

“The letter ... does not draw conclusions about guilt or innocence, but focuses on a process that ill-served complainants and Mr. Galloway. There can be no reasonable public discussion of this matter until UBC begins to provide appropriate facts and information,” reads a segment of the e-mail Mr. Boyden sent out to 86 writers, soliciting support. Nearly 90 per cent of the recipients who opened the e-mail signed the letter. (Some invitations were sent as late as Sunday night, so more names may be added.)

The allegations against Mr. Galloway were never specified, but the use of the phrase “serious allegations” in a memo that also encouraged students who were concerned about their safety and well-being to seek support, followed by media interviews by university officials, “cast a cloud of suspicion,” the letter says, “and created the impression that he was in some way a danger to the university community.

“The impression has been amplified in the public sphere, severely damaging Professor Galloway’s reputation and affecting his health,” it continues, noting that Mr. Galloway has not been charged.

The letter also accuses UBC of appearing to misrepresent the findings of the independent report by former B.C. Supreme Court judge Mary Ellen Boyd. As the UBC Faculty Association revealed after Mr. Galloway was terminated due to “irreparable breach of ... trust,” the report substantiated only one of the complaints, and it was not the most serious one.

“The University then claimed that other allegations unrelated to the subject of Justice Boyd’s investigation were involved in its decision to terminate Professor Galloway’s employment,” the letter states. “It has not, however, made a clear public statement to this effect, nor has it apologized for the harm its previous actions have done to Professor Galloway’s reputation.”

The letter states that complainants should be protected and privacy should not be violated, but that an accused person also has the right to fair treatment.

While the university has not revealed details of the complaints against the award-winning author, The Globe and Mail has reported that the main complainant in the case, a former student in the course, accused Mr. Galloway – with whom she had had an affair, according to several sources – of sexual assault. Additional complaints included sexual harassment and bullying. The Globe has not spoken with the woman and Mr. Galloway has declined to be interviewed.

The letter is signed by a who’s who of the Canadian literary world, including Mr. Galloway’s editor Diane Martin, International Festival of Authors director Geoffrey Taylor, publisher Douglas Gibson, former Globe books editor Martin Levin, and a long list of acclaimed writers including Guy Vanderhaeghe, David Bezmozgis, Charles Foran, Noah Richler, Wayne Johnston, Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, Graeme Gibson, Lisa Moore, Camilla Gibb, Sheila Heti and former Vancouver poet laureate Brad Cran, who helped organize the initiative.

Andreas Schroeder, who is the Rogers Communication Chair in Creative Nonfiction at UBC’s creative writing program until the end of this academic year – his resignation is related to this case – has also signed the letter. Other authors who teach or have taught at the program have also signed it, including Susin Nielsen, John Vaillant, Brian Brett, John K. Samson, Lee Henderson, Ian Weir and Charles Demers. It is also signed by several authors who have been publicly supportive of Mr. Galloway, including Karen Connelly, Angie Abdou and Kevin Patterson.

This year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize and Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction winner Madeleine Thien, who earlier wrote UBC her own (initially private) letter instructing that her name be removed from all university platforms in protest against how the case has been handled, has also signed the open letter, along with her partner, author Rawi Hage.

The letter was sent to UBC president Santa Ono late on Monday afternoon. UBC was not immediately able to provide a comment.

The school has defended its handling of the Galloway case, describing its process as “an impartial, comprehensive investigation” overseen by a former judge while insisting it acted in the best interests of students. It has also repeatedly stated it is bound by privacy concerns. In response to a previous question about whether UBC plans to release more information about this case, including the details of the final report, UBC’s managing director of public affairs Susan Danard told The Globe that employers can only disclose details regarding someone’s departure if the person who resigned or was terminated agrees to waive their right to privacy.

But “Professor Galloway himself has been denied the right to speak publicly while his case is being grieved,” the letter states. “The University’s willingness to allow the suspicions it has created to continue to circulate is surprising and appears to be contrary to the principles of fairness and justice that should guide any distinguished academic institution.”

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