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In a piece for The Globe and Mail last weekend, Canadian author Margaret Atwood called on organizations focused on freedom of speech to speak up about whether a website related to the firing of Steven Galloway should remain online.DANIEL ROLAND/AFP / Getty Images

PEN Canada and PEN International say a controversial website connected to the case of fired UBC Creative Writing program head Steven Galloway should not be taken down.

In a joint statement, PEN – an advocacy group for writers that promotes free expression and fights censorship – expressed concern at calls for the removal of the UBC Accountable website and said that it should remain intact as a permanent digital record.

In an interview, PEN Canada president Richard Stursberg told The Globe and Mail that access to information is a central component of freedom of expression. "Which means you don't eliminate history," he said. "We have obviously no objection if anybody wants to remove their signatures from the website or disavow it on the basis of second thoughts, but we think it would be limiting freedom of expression to actually take it down."

The statement by PEN, which also advocates for writers in exile and in prison, is in response to an opinion piece by Margaret Atwood, a past president of PEN Canada.

In the piece "Am I a bad feminist?" – published in The Globe last weekend – Ms. Atwood suggested a number of organizations speak up about the controversy. She explained that she got into "hot water with the Good Feminists" after signing an open letter, posted to the UBC Accountable website, calling for due process in the Galloway case.

Mr. Galloway, a bestselling novelist who had been chair of UBC's Creative Writing program, was fired after he was accused of sexual assault by a former student. An independent investigation by a retired judge determined, on a balance of probabilities, that he did not commit sexual assault, according to a statement from Mr. Galloway. He said he had had an affair with the student. But the former student responded in a statement that her complaint was not about a consensual affair. His firing is being grieved.

In 2016, Ms. Atwood and dozens of others signed the open letter, sparking a firestorm in the CanLit community.

In her recent essay, she called UBC Accountable a symptom of UBC's "failure" and "flawed process."

Following an inquiry from The Globe, UBC spokesperson Susan Danard offered a statement in response to Ms. Atwood's essay: "It is important to note that a review of the university's decision is already underway. Currently, the case is before a third-party arbitrator at the request of the Faculty Association on behalf of Mr. Galloway and in keeping with UBC's collective agreement with its faculty and the labour laws of B.C.

"Like all public bodies, UBC is governed by provincial privacy law, which prevents us from disclosing information about disciplinary investigations without the consent of the employee. In addition, UBC has a confidentiality agreement with Mr. Galloway and the Faculty Association, which is representing Mr. Galloway, and that agreement prohibits us from commenting publicly."

In her essay, Ms. Atwood also said the Canadian Civil Liberties or BC Civil Liberties Associations should have addressed the matter. "Maybe these organizations will now put up their hands. Since the letter has now become a censorship issue – with calls being made to erase the site and the many thoughtful words of its writers – perhaps PEN Canada, PEN International, CJFE [Canadian Journalists for Free Expression] and Index on Censorship may also have a view."

The Globe reached out on Monday to each of the organizations named in Ms. Atwood's essay.

Mr. Stursberg, in agreeing with Ms. Atwood, made it clear that PEN was only addressing the calls for the website's removal – and none of the other issues in the case, including transparency at UBC "or who's to be believed," he said. "Those are not our issues. Our issue is very narrow. It's only around the question of whether taking down the website would be a violation of freedom of expression and we think that would be a violation."

The BCCLA declined to comment. The CCLA said its new executive director, Michael Bryant, was getting up to speed on its files and was not immediately available. CJFE said the issue is largely outside its mandate and declined to comment.

In a statement Index on Censorship wrote: "Index on Censorship believes that the public should be as well informed as possible about decisions taken at public institutions and would not argue for a letter that was previously in the public domain to be taken down. It is up to individual authors whether they continue to want to support it or revise their position. Freedom of expression includes the freedom to be informed and the freedom to debate ideas."

As the Canadian Screen Award nominations were announced Tuesday, members of the film and TV industry weighed in on whether award shows could be a platform for change, in light of the #MeToo movement.

The Canadian Press

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