The Steven Galloway case continues to create rifts in Canadian literature and academia, with competing open letters and other commentary battling it out online.
A petition posted on the weekend takes aim at the signatories of an open letter that called for transparency and due process for Mr. Galloway. Amid think pieces, angry tweets and long Facebook threads on the topic, a few people have removed their signatures from that letter.
Mr. Galloway was fired as chair of the creative writing program at UBC in June after being suspended last November because of “serious allegations,” the university said. The issue erupted again with the posting last week of the open letter to UBC.
This led to another open letter, which was posted to change.org. “We are shocked and appalled by the letter signed by many prominent Canadian writers defending Steven Galloway,” reads the letter written by Julie Rak, a professor in the department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, with assistance from Hannah McGregor, who teaches in the publishing program at Simon Fraser University.
The first open letter, led by author Joseph Boyden and posted to a site called UBC Accountable, calls for an independent investigation into the handling of the Galloway case. The backlash included a piece by author Lawrence Hill on why he would not sign the letter.
Critics of the first letter, including Prof. Rak, say it “silenced and rendered invisible” the complainants because it focused on Mr. Galloway’s treatment and fate.
“We are furious that there is only support for Galloway himself because he is a fellow writer, and because he is friends with many who signed the letter,” the petition reads.
Prof. Rak said she was taken aback when she saw the first open letter and its signatories, including Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Michael Ondaatje and Madeleine Thien.
“I felt ashamed to even say that I work on Canadian literature,” Prof. Rak said. “I felt sick by the people who signed it; many of them I really respect. … And I saw a letter that was defending Steven Galloway, which is fine, but the letter had nothing to say about these female complainants.”
Mr. Boyden, Ms. Atwood and signatory Susan Swan, in a letter to the editor to The Globe and Mail, clarified that an inquiry “should be interested in an outcome that provides fair treatment for Mr. Galloway and all those involved, including the women who registered complaints.”
Prof. Rak says it is particularly concerning that some people who teach creative writing signed the letter.
“I feel like professors and instructors have a very high ethical responsibility to our students. We have more power than them. … And we also need to model for them what good action is.”
Chelsea Rooney, a UBC creative writing program graduate and complainant in the case, said she has been checking the petition regularly. “It has been helpful in an extremely difficult time.”
The petition, with more than 355 supporters as of Monday afternoon – including poet Susan Musgrave –called on signatories of the first letter to withdraw their names.
Several have done so, including author Camilla Gibb.
“It was causing so much pain,” she explained on Facebook. She wrote that, as an undergrad in the late 1980s, “the sexual impropriety of professors was so commonplace we thought it was normal. I am listening to younger women, really listening now, and learning – about your experiences, about myself, about how far we still have to go.”
“I/we have much to learn from them,” Ms. Gibb wrote in an e-mail to The Globe. “I am grateful for that.”
But Carmen Aguirre, a signatory who is now the spokesperson for UBC Accountable, said the letter was about due process and she stands by it.
“I do not believe that asking UBC what the hell they were thinking, basically, is silencing potential victims or complainants,” said Ms. Aguirre, who wrote about being raped in her recent memoir, Mexican Hooker #1: And My Other Roles Since the Revolution.
“The letter – I don’t see how it’s silenced anybody,” she adds, “and I’ve gone through it a million times.”
Ms. Aguirre said her chief concern with UBC’s behaviour involves its decision to release Mr. Galloway’s name to the media when he was suspended last November. UBC spokesperson Susan Danard has told The Globe the university released Mr. Galloway’s name because he “was in a leadership position and it was therefore necessary to advise of his absence as Chair.”Report Typo/Error