Skip to main content

UBC professor say the defamation case filed by Steven Galloway is nothing more than a SLAPP lawsuit

Steven Galloway wrote a fictional account of Harry Houdini the new book is called the Confabulist.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The meeting was held on a Sunday, at a professor’s house. All tenured and tenure-track professors in the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia were present, with one exception: Missing was the program’s chair, Steven Galloway.

The bestselling author was in Ohio for a speaking engagement, but he wouldn’t have been included anyway. He was the reason for the meeting. Three days earlier, a student who was about to graduate had made allegations about Mr. Galloway: sexual assault, assault and sexual harassment. That’s what the professors had gathered to discuss.

Details of the 2015 meeting have emerged in connection with a defamation lawsuit Mr. Galloway has filed against his accuser – known as AB – UBC professors Annabel Lyon and Keith Maillard and more than 20 other people. A hearing on the matter concluded in B.C. Supreme Court on June 4. Several defendants, including AB and the professors, have applied to have the lawsuit dismissed. They say the case is what’s known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation – SLAPP. British Columbia’s Protection of Public Participation Act seeks to prevent powerful and wealthy people or organizations from using the legal system to quash free speech in matters of public importance.

The defendants say Mr. Galloway’s lawsuit is an attempt to create libel chill around the confidential disclosure, reporting and discussion of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Days after the faculty meeting, Mr. Galloway was suspended – in a move announced publicly by the dean of arts, who said “serious allegations” had been made against him. Mr. Galloway was later fired with cause, and became the central figure in a polarizing CanLit dispute. His three-book contract with Random House was cancelled.

Mr. Galloway’s lawyer calls the meeting and other actions by the department to investigate the complaint an “amateur process.”

Court documents and submissions in the anti-SLAPP application offer insight into the events that preceded Mr. Galloway’s firing, including how people who worked at UBC handled the matter.

In separate affidavits, Prof. Lyon and Prof. Maillard have said they felt a moral and professional duty to deal with the allegations. They said there was no malice; they were concerned that something terrible had happened to AB. But another professor in attendance called the meeting a “toxic, traumatic event.”

Professors were read a letter in which AB said she would make her allegations public if the department did not take the matter seriously. This threat, Mr. Galloway’s lawyer argued, helped provoke highly unusual events that led to Mr. Galloway’s firing and amounted to a career-killing defamation.

“It is one of the most serious defamation actions, involving some of the most serious damage to a person in memory in this province,” Daniel Burnett said in court documents.

Court filings also show the creative writing program and the university’s Equity Office used a former student to help carry out the investigation, and that the main complainant had a negative experience with the Equity Office two years earlier. And they show that the accuser graduated without completing her thesis – a move Prof. Maillard and Prof. Lyon approved a few months before AB informed the program in a phone call about her allegations.

AB was about to graduate in November, 2015 – despite the incomplete thesis – when she made the call to Prof. Maillard, her thesis adviser.

It was not the first time AB had tried to report her allegations. In the summer of 2013, according to an affidavit, she approached the Equity Office – an experience she describes as terrible and mishandled. She said she was referred to the RCMP and walked across campus by UBC security to speak to police. She said that when she learned officers would contact Mr. Galloway, she refused to provide a statement.

In the fall of 2013, she phoned the Equity Office to express concerns that Prof. Galloway was “sexually targeting” another graduate student (to whom he is now married; Mr. Galloway says the relationship began after the woman graduated). AB says she was asked to get proof, but she didn’t see that as her job.

She says UBC told her she could delay a decision to report until she graduated. As her grad date neared, she said in cross-examination, she felt increasing stress.

“But I also knew that it was going to be completely irresponsible of me to not report, because there were potentially other women in my position after me.”

She called Prof. Maillard on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. Prof. Maillard shared the allegations with Prof. Lyon, who was in charge while Mr. Galloway was away.

Before the weekend meeting, AB sent an e-mail to Prof. Maillard. “What I am about to say is not a threat it is a fact: I spoke to a lawyer after I got off the phone with you because there is a case for me to sue the university,” she wrote. She wrote that if tenured faculty knew about her case and didn’t take it seriously, there “is almost certainly a strong case for suing the Creative Writing Department. I am stating this as a fact – not a threat!!! I think that skeptical or shocked members of the department might need to know how much more serious this could get for the department. If they don’t act.”

In the e-mail, AB said other women were coming forward and that failure to act might anger them. “The media would [be] very interested in writing about the most venerable creative writing program in the country failing to act – failing to do a thorough investigation.”

UBC is set to vote on a new sexual misconduct policy in the wake of allegations it mishandled complaints against a history PhD student and former creative writing chairman Steven Galloway.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The meeting was called to order at 2 p.m. Another professor, Timothy Taylor, commented on his way in that he was uncomfortable with what was going on.

Professor Nancy Lee took handwritten notes. “We’re not here to determine guilt or innocence,” the notes say, but to plan next steps – “to protect students and faculty” and walk through what they had learned.

AB had sent a letter as an e-mail attachment to Prof. Lyon and Prof. Maillard, asking that it be read out at the meeting. “In case faculty are concerned about thin evidence,” AB wrote in the body of the e-mail.

In the attached letter, AB said she had met with members of the CBC-TV program The Fifth Estate and “they looked at my evidence and listened to my statement, put it through their lawyers – who are meticulous about potential legal cases levelled against them. The CBC legal team thought my evidence was damning.”

She added: “If the CBC law team thinks my case is strong and true and can easily withstand legal scrutiny, surely this should carry weight with the [creative writing] department in your decision making.”

She says if the creative writing program didn’t take action “in the near future I will take that national platform. I won’t protect a department who doesn’t protect rape victims.”

But CBC lawyers did not vet her story.

Mr. Burnett asked AB during cross-examination before the hearing if she would admit the statement was a lie. AB responded that it was an exaggeration and that she wouldn’t apologize for writing it, because she was terrified.

“I was being pressured to provide evidence and there really is no evidence, and I knew that the people who were making decisions about whether this was going to be investigated were … some of [Mr. Galloway’s] closest friends.”

Mr. Galloway’s lawyer argues it was not the faculty’s job to make such decisions and the allegations should not have been disclosed to them at such a meeting.

In his response to the SLAPP application, Mr. Burnett wrote that “Lyon and Maillard were under pressure due to AB’s threat to go public to a ‘national platform’ and attempting to avoid that by hasty accusations and judgment, rather than [taking] steps to ensure the matter was properly investigated.”

Mr. Galloway’s legal team also suggested Prof. Maillard and Prof. Lyon were trying to stay on AB’s good side because they had improperly approved her unfinished thesis. In cross-examination, Prof. Lyon rejected that suggestion.

(Prof. Lyon declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing legal matter. Prof. Maillard did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the Sunday meeting, Prof. Lyon played two voicemail messages Mr. Galloway had left for AB the previous Thursday in which he apologized and said he would turn himself in, although he did not say what for. Mr. Galloway and AB had sexual relations for two years. He says it was a consensual affair. She has called it an ongoing abusive relationship. He denies the sexual-assault allegation, and no criminal charge has been laid.

People at the meeting were shown copies of a letter AB had sent to then-interim UBC president Martha Piper the day after her initial phone call to Prof. Maillard. The letter stated that she had been sexually assaulted by an unnamed professor. AB copied a CBC journalist on this e-mail.

AB had received a response the next day, a Saturday, from UBC’s associate director of student conduct and safety, who offered to meet with her that day. She replied with more questions and wrote again to him on Monday. Mr. Burnett says that was the official process that should have been followed.

Those at the Sunday meeting were told a former student in the program, Chelsea Rooney, was gathering other complaints against Mr. Galloway. Ms. Rooney became involved after AB suggested Prof. Maillard speak with her to corroborate AB’s story. Ms. Rooney’s affidavit says Prof. Maillard called and asked if she knew others toward whom Mr. Galloway may have acted inappropriately or who may have witnessed something relevant.

Ms. Rooney offered that she had her own complaint against Mr. Galloway and said others would too. This was relayed at the Sunday gathering.

“The meeting was not a neutral relaying of a complaint made by a student to faculty members for information purposes,” Prof. Taylor stated in an affidavit.

According to Prof. Lee’s handwritten notes, the idea of contacting Mr. Galloway’s ex-wife was discussed because of concerns for her safety and the safety of their children. Prof. Taylor and another professor, Bryan Wade, objected to involving his family, the notes say.

“There was no privacy for these people,” Prof. Wade said in cross-examination of his affidavit. He called the meeting “a toxic, traumatic event.”

Prof. Lee’s final handwritten notes from that meeting state that Prof. Lyon left a phone message for dean of arts Gage Averill to request an immediate meeting.

In an e-mail on the Sunday afternoon, Prof. Lyon informed Dr. Averill of the allegation and told him AB had told her privately “that she would seek a national platform for her allegations if we did not take prompt action.”

The next day, Dr. Averill sent an e-mail to Mr. Galloway after being unable to reach him by phone, asking him to immediately step aside as chair and have no contact with students.

“I appreciate that these are allegations, and, pending the outcome of the investigation, I will endeavour to protect [your] privacy and reputation as much as possible,” Dr. Averill wrote to Mr. Galloway on Nov. 16.

Two days later, a memo from the dean was sent to students, faculty and staff and posted to the program’s website stating that “serious allegations” had been made against Mr. Galloway, that he had been suspended pending an investigation, that students’ safety was the prime concern, and that counselling was available. It also stated that no findings had been made about any wrongdoing by Mr. Galloway.

People walk past large letters spelling out UBC at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., on November 22, 2015. Author Steven Galloway has issued his first statement since he was fired in June under a veil of secrecy from the University of British Columbia.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Around that time, Ms. Rooney contacted people she thought could be witnesses or might have complaints, as she had been asked to do.

What she said in these calls is at issue in the legal proceedings: Did she say Mr. Galloway raped AB? Or that AB was making a complaint of sexual assault?

In Ms. Rooney’s affidavit, she said she believed if there were other complaints, it would help prevent Mr. Galloway from victimizing other students. She said she also believed UBC would be more likely to conduct a fair investigation if there was more than one complaint.

“I believed it was my duty to facilitate any investigation by the university.”

The university prepared a letter for Ms. Rooney to distribute and sent it to Prof. Lyon, asking her to thank Ms. Rooney on their behalf “for all that you’ve done.”

The letter, signed by UBC’s associate vice-president, equity and inclusion, did not specify the allegations.

Ms. Rooney was kept in the loop by Prof. Lyon and Prof. Maillard; the dean’s office sent her a copy of his statement before it was sent out publicly.

Mr. Galloway says Ms. Rooney, a friend of AB who made her own complaint against Mr. Galloway, was not neutral.

Mr. Galloway is also suing Ms. Rooney for tweets she sent; many of the other defendants are also being sued over social-media posts.

In late 2015, UBC hired retired B.C. Supreme Court Judge Mary Ellen Boyd to investigate the allegations. Her report, delivered in April, 2016, found on a balance of probabilities that Mr. Galloway did not commit sexual assault or assault. A finding of sexual harassment was cited in Mr. Galloway’s termination letter, which he disputes, according to court filings. An unredacted version of the Boyd report has not been made public.

In June, 2016, Mr. Galloway was fired for irreparable breach of trust and a record of misconduct – with no compensation.

In June, 2018, an arbitrator awarded Mr. Galloway $167,000 for violation of his privacy rights by UBC, causing harm to his reputation. A subsequent $60,000 payment was ordered from UBC.

Mr. Galloway launched his lawsuit in October, 2018. He says he has lost all of his writing, speaking and teaching work and is now cleaning pools.

AB said in an affidavit: “I am being sued for reporting sexual violence to my educational institution and for speaking privately to persons I trusted. … I did not make my allegations against [Mr. Galloway] public. UBC first made my report public.”

She also says, “I don’t know in good conscience that I would tell women who have been sexually assaulted to come forward.”

The judge has reserved judgment.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles