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Steven Galloway at the University of British Columbia on April 11, 2014.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Author Steven Galloway was fired from the University of British Columbia’s creative writing program for reasons that included sexual harassment, a Vancouver court has heard.

The B.C. Supreme Court has been hearing submissions for the past two weeks in the years-long, fractious case. They included assertions by lawyers for a woman who accused him of sexual assault that UBC claimed Galloway’s dismissal was also because of financial misconduct, dishonesty in the investigation of the complaint, alcohol consumption with students and a previous instance of sexual relations with a student. Further, they said, he failed to disclose a sexual relationship with another student (now his wife).

A lawyer for Galloway, who is suing his accuser and others for defamation, said on Friday that the court cannot rely on these claims.

The woman’s lawyers introduced the information, which they said came from cross-examination of Galloway on an affidavit, during an application to have the libel suit dismissed under B.C.’s Protection of Public Participation Act.

Supreme Court dismisses appeal of ruling to turn over documents in Steven Galloway defamation case

The firing of Galloway, who was an associate professor and head of the creative writing program, after the complaints from the former student, ignited a firestorm in academia and Canadian literary circles.

The former UBC creative writing student made allegations of sexual assault, assault and harassment against Galloway to UBC in November, 2015. Galloway has said he had a consensual sexual relationship with the student.

An independent investigation conducted by retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mary Ellen Boyd did not find, on a balance of probabilities, that Galloway committed sexual assault or assault. Nonetheless, he was fired in June, 2016, for a record of misconduct and irreparable breach of trust, UBC said.

After his dismissal, he was awarded more than $240,000 in damages from UBC after an arbitrator found that the university had violated his privacy rights and damaged his reputation.

In 2018, Galloway launched the defamation suit against more than 20 people, including his accuser – known as “AB” to protect her identity – UBC professors Annabel Lyon and Keith Maillard, and an art critic.

A number of the defendants call the suit an attempt to prevent them from speaking out – what is known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) – and say it should be dismissed.

Lawyer David Wotherspoon, acting for AB, calls this a landmark case. “This case is not about reputation management,” Wotherspoon said in his opening remarks on April 6. “It is about protecting the right for any woman, anyone, to freely report on sexual violence.” He said Galloway’s case “is about silencing and punishing people for speaking up.”

The case has permeated many lives, especially those of Galloway and AB – both of whom, court heard, have suffered severe impacts on their mental health.

Galloway’s lawyer, Daniel Burnett, said statements calling someone a rapist, sexual assaulter, physical assaulter “trigger utter revulsion in the mind of any reasonable person reading or hearing it and utter anguish and despair to the person accused.” Burnett made his opening submissions on Friday, after eight days of submissions by lawyers for the defendants. The hearing is scheduled to resume on June 2 with further submissions from Burnett.

Galloway, whose books include The Cellist of Sarajevo, says his career as an author, professor and public speaker has been ruined, along with prospect for future work. Court heard that his publisher cancelled a three-book contract by e-mail in May, 2018.

Media reports have said the Boyd report found Galloway was wrong to have an affair with a student. AB’s lawyers painted a different picture in court.

“The finding was not that the plaintiff breached a policy because he had a consensually mutually enjoyable affair with AB,” Joanna Birenbaum said, citing the Boyd Report. “The finding was that he abused his position of power and subjected AB to inappropriate, unwanted, unwelcome sexual comments and advances, constituting sexual harassment.”

Court heard that Galloway says no harassment occurred.

The report, which has not been made public, was entered into evidence in this matter.

“The court can’t rely on Ms. Boyd’s statements as evidence proving harassment,” Burnett said. “If the allegation of harassment is permitted at the trial, there will be vastly more evidence that will put the lie to that allegation – vastly more than Ms. Boyd ever heard. And we’ll put away that fiction, despite how many times you’ve heard it repeated.”

Lawyers for the defendants in the libel suit presented the court with new details about how the matter was handled at UBC.

In November, 2015, AB, who was no longer at UBC, took her allegations to Maillard. On his advice, the court heard, she wrote to then UBC president Martha Piper.

(Court was told AB had previously tried to make a report about Galloway to the university’s equity office, which had instructed her to go to the police. She abandoned that process. No criminal charges have ever been filed in this matter.)

Court heard that Maillard asked AB if any other students in her cohort had stories to tell. This led Maillard to ask another former student, Chelsea Rooney, to approach others who she thought might have experienced misconduct. She was also kept apprised of developments related to the matter early on by Lyon. Court heard that Rooney understood she was acting on the directions of UBC. She contacted 19 or 20 potential witnesses or complainants.

Burnett said that in her conversations with the other students, Rooney was spreading rape allegations under the guise of an investigation.

Rooney – who herself was a complainant in the case – is also being sued by Galloway.

“It’s not on AB or the shoulders of Ms. Rooney that the process at UBC was flawed,” Birenbaum said.

That process included a weekend meeting of faculty, where Lyon and Maillard shared the allegations with colleagues, the court heard.

“Such a meeting is unprecedented in the department,” Burnett said on Friday. “Such a use of a nonstudent, nontrained friend of AB to go out and tell some 20 others is, I’ll say it’s madness. It was unbelievably reckless at every level.”

Court also heard that a letter written by AB containing the allegations was read out loud at the meeting – and it said she confided her story to a CBC journalist and a legal team at the CBC had agreed she had a solid case. Burnett told court that AB later admitted during cross-examination on one of her affidavits that this was a fabrication.

A few days after that 2015 meeting, UBC publicly announced it had suspended Galloway amid “serious allegations” and expressed concern for students’ safety. This fuelled significant public and media interest, as did his firing the following June.

In November, 2016, a group of prominent authors, academics and others – including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and David Cronenberg – that came to be known as UBC Accountable signed an open letter calling for due process for Galloway. This led to outrage and heated debate, with opinions on both sides shared in articles and on social media.

A lawyer for one of the defendants told the court Galloway saw the letter before it was published.

AB put on an art show in the United States in the summer of 2018 about sexual assault involving a professor. A critic who wrote about it is among those being sued by Galloway. A lawyer for the art critic told the court the critic made changes to her review after consulting AB – replacing the term “alleged” with “reported” in relation to sexual assault. (AB’s real name was used in the show and the review; Galloway was not mentioned, nor was UBC.)

Galloway launched his lawsuit in October, 2018, naming AB. Court heard that AB and other defendants learned about it through news media.

“There is no other explanation for publicly naming AB … than to punish her and harm her and send a signal to other complainants that their anonymity in these processes can be at risk,” Birenbaum argued.

Several people who had tweeted about issues involved in the case were also named.

Court heard that some of the defendants’ tweets were made known to Galloway by one of the organizers of the UBC Accountable letter, Brad Cran, who had monitored Twitter, taking screenshots of tweets, and saving them to a dropbox folder at one point for Galloway.

Lawyers for the other defendants argued that Galloway cast his net too wide and that the harm to his reputation was not the result of their tweets. Lawyers expressed concern that this lawsuit will chill debate on an important issue – and already has. Many of the people named in the suit, once active participants on social media on issues of sexual violence, have stepped back from publishing their opinions in this area. They also called the suit punitive and vindictive, motivated by a desire for revenge and retribution.

“There are all sorts of things, extraordinarily hurtful, that he has chosen not to sue over,” Burnett countered on Friday. “The trial would be never-ending if he did.”

The result has been what was described in court as a “massive litigation” with some 7,000 pages of evidence.

The province’s anti-SLAPP law is intended to protect free expression on matters of public interest – in particular to stop individuals and small or marginalized groups from being legally muzzled in defamation suits by more powerful people or corporations.

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