Alicia Elliott, the recipient of the 2018 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award, is a Tuscarora writer and editor living in Brantford, Ont.
A little more than a week ago, the results of writer Steven Galloway’s arbitration with the University of British Columbia were announced: The arbitrator found that UBC had violated Mr. Galloway’s privacy rights and damaged his reputation – a trespass that cost the university $167,000. At the time, all I could think about was how much more highly Canada values men’s reputations, emotions and even legal rights than those of women.
This message was only reinforced a few days later when two journalists in two major news outlets – including this one – interviewed Mr. Galloway. One described him as a “broken man,” and the other quoted him as experiencing “a painful, wrenching shock,” in the aftermath. Neither interview quoted any of the complainants to ask about the state of their lives. Neither interview addressed why Mr. Galloway, despite his claims of financial ruin and near bankruptcy, decided to drop the part of his union-provided arbitration that would have both reinstated him to his former position as head of Creative Writing and awarded him two years’ worth of back pay – a move that would have restored his reputation and financial standing – as long as the arbitrator ruled his firing unjustified.
To anyone who’s been paying attention to this case from the beginning, such empathy should not come as a surprise. Almost as soon as UBC first announced it was investigating “serious allegations” against Mr. Galloway two years ago, the author had a slew of influential friends ready to defend his every claim.
UBC alumna Madeleine Thien, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, wrote a letter to the university, asking that her name be taken off of all school materials in protest of Mr. Galloway’s treatment. In her letter, which was subsequently published by The Globe and Mail, she quotes the Boyd report, a confidential document that outlined retired judge Mary Ellen Boyd’s findings during her investigation of complaints of assault, sexual harassment and sexual assault against Mr. Galloway.
Yet to safeguard the privacy of Mr. Galloway, the university could not release a complete, unredacted copy of the Boyd report to the main complainant without Mr. Galloway’s permission, which he still has not given. So the woman whose allegations were the reason the report came about in the first place cannot read the full unredacted version. (A version, redacted to remove some personal and private information by the university, has been given to the main complainant.)
Last week, Mr. Galloway disclosed to Globe columnist Gary Mason the precise details of the main complainant’s allegations against him – details that she has not even revealed to her close friends and family. He can do this without facing any legal repercussions. And yet, because of Canada’s libel laws, if the main complainant were to reveal the same allegations to a reporter, she could be sued. Free speech in Canada, it would appear, is only free for alleged abusers and not alleged victims.
What’s more, the infamous UBC Accountable letter, signed by more than 80 influential Canadian writers, editors and publishers, was initially put up to advocate for Mr. Galloway alone. It was titled “Steven Galloway’s Right To Due Process.” His mental health, reputation and rights were the focus of this letter, as they have been in every column Galloway’s supporters, such as Jonathan Kay and Margaret Atwood, have published since.
Meanwhile, his complainants’ concerns have always come second – if they are brought up at all. They don’t have the backing of influential people, publishers which have stood behind them, unions to arbitrate on their behalf, or a $167,000 award. If Mr. Galloway’s life is in shambles despite all of this support, what must his complainants’ lives be like?
We are a society that focuses on the way men are affected by sexual-assault accusations, without also worrying about the ways complainants have been affected. We allow laws to stand that permit men to disclose details of allegations against them while the women making those allegations cannot. We continue to give the impression that sexual violence only matters when it has the potential to hurt men. Is that really the message we want to send? That allegations of sexual assault hurt a man more than actual sexual assault hurts a woman? What does that say about us and our ability to see women as full human beings?
Procedures and laws need to be put in place to support the women who come forward with complaints of sexual assault at least as much as the men who are accused. Libel laws need to be changed to make it easier for women to share their accusations without worrying about being sued. Universities need to put forward funding to help students who have survived sexual assault with legal costs, counselling and missed work, and give survivors the option to take leave from their classes for a certain amount of time without worrying it will negatively impact their academic standing.
We need to collectively create a different narrative about the worth of women – and we need to do it now.