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More than 10 writers remove their names from controversial letter in Steven Galloway case

Steven Galloway is pictured at UBC on April 11, 2014.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

More than 10 writers have removed their names from a controversial letter that called for due process for author Steven Galloway, including acclaimed Canadian novelists Madeleine Thien, Rawi Hage and Lisa Moore. The removal of the names follows a difficult year during which Canadian writers faced off in pitched battles over social media and beyond.

"This is something I've been wrestling with for the past year – daily – during which time I went from wanting to remove my name to wanting to keep it on the letter to wanting to remove it," poet Mitchell Parry told The Globe and Mail on Friday after he removed his name. "So exhaustion is one reason."

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Mr. Galloway, a bestselling novelist, was fired from his job as the chair of UBC's creative writing program in 2016 after a high-profile suspension the previous year. UBC said the allegations against him were serious, but gave little other detail, provoking much speculation, as details were kept under wraps while an independent investigation was under way. It has since emerged that a former student accused Mr. Galloway of sexual assault. He has said he had an affair with the student. She has said her complaint was not about a consensual relationship. Others, deemed ancillary complainants in the case, alleged inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment and bullying.

Mr. Galloway is fighting his termination, and an arbitration process is continuing.

The controversial letter was posted on a website called UBC Accountable in the fall of 2016 with more than 60 signatures initially. After an outcry from some complainants in the case and many others, signatories Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden and Susan Swan clarified that they were calling for fair treatment for all involved in the case, including the complainants.

More signatures were added, others were deleted.

UBC Accountable, organized by Mr. Boyden, called for an independent investigation into how the institution handled the matter.

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

But some of the authors say the letter came to represent something they had not intended.

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"The past year has seen a violent rending of a community that matters to me, pitching good, caring people against each other and watching that happen was breaking my heart," said Mr. Parry, who also teaches film studies. "Over the past year, the letter that I had signed had turned into something entirely different."

He said he was going back and forth about whether to remove his name, but the turning point for him was a dialogue with writer Alicia Elliott, who is opposed to the letter. She had commented that she knew of young writers who were terrified of coming forward to speak up about allegations of abuse because of the letter.

In a lengthy Facebook post this week, Meryn Cadell, songwriter and former UBC colleague of Mr. Galloway's, urged continued pressure on UBC, for its "inept" and "cagey" handling of the matter.

"The University of British Columbia failed in every way. ... The institution must explain and account for all of its missteps, starting from the first complaint." Mr. Cadell, whose name is no longer on the UBC Accountable site, also called for the website to be taken down entirely.

In a statement posted to the website, award-winning author David Bezmozgis also called for the site to be taken down. But he has declined to remove his name, saying he supports the due process the letter demands. "I don't consider these positions to be mutually exclusive," he writes.

UBC Accountable spokesperson Carmen Aguirre, also an award-winning author, says the site will not come down, saying in an interview on Friday that would be "almost a form of censorship."

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She said signatories have had discussions, mostly in writing, and some felt it was time to take their names down. She said many signatories have been approached by people unhappy with the letter over the past year, usually in a respectful manner – but not always.

"In some cases, signatories have been bullied," she said. "So I think that some signatories were just getting really tired of that, and for that reason wanted the letter to come down."

Ms. Aguirre also says the current climate since sexual abuse allegations against U.S. movie producer Harvey Weinstein inspired the #MeToo movement last year, and after recent allegations at Concordia University in Montreal about sexual harassment in its creative-writing department, were also likely factors.

Ms. Aguirre's name remains on the letter, along with the names of more than 80 others, including Ms. Atwood, Mr. Boyden, Michael Ondaatje and Jane Urquhart.

"As for those of us who have chosen to keep our names on, I get the sense that we feel stronger than ever about the content of the letter, which for us was always about due process and never about questioning the claims," Ms. Aguirre said.

"The letter was about standing up for procedural fairness and centring around how UBC mistreated an employee. It was never about questioning whether Galloway is innocent or guilty of the claims made against him or saying or implying that the complaints and the complainants were wrong."

Ms. Thien, a UBC graduate who has criticized the university for its handling of the case, declined to give a statement to The Globe on Friday after removing her name from the letter.

Chelsea Rooney, an ancillary complainant in the case who has actively requested the removal of signatures from the site, declined to comment.

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