British Columbia

Canadian authors criticize UBC's handling of Steven Galloway case

Dozens of prominent members of the Canadian literary community — including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Madeleine Thien— have signed an open letter calling for due process for former UBC creative writing program chair Steven Galloway.

Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje among literary icons behind open letter to university

An open letter signed by many high-profile Canadian authors criticizes UBC's investigation into allegations against former creative writing program chair Steven Galloway. (Frances Raud)

Dozens of prominent members of the Canadian literary community have signed an open letter calling for due process for former University of British Columbia creative writing program chair Steven Galloway.

Galloway was fired in June after an investigation into what the university called "serious allegations."

Signatories to the letter include Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Madeleine Thien, as well as publishers and other literary figures.

"The university's conduct in this matter is of great concern," the letter reads. "Justice … requires due process and fair treatment for all, which the university appears to have denied professor Galloway."

The letter asks UBC to conduct an independent investigation into its handling of the case, saying it needs to make a clear public statement about what happened and why.

'Cloud of suspicion' 

Galloway — a bestselling author and Giller Prize nominee — was initially suspended with pay in November 2015 while the university investigated the allegations against him. At the time, the university gave no public details about the allegations, other than that they were "serious."

"Please keep in mind that the investigation has not yet commenced and no findings have been made about any wrongdoing by Prof. Galloway," wrote UBC arts dean Gage Averill in a memo sent to students and staff of the creative writing program, when it was first announced that Galloway had been suspended.

"Our priority is attending to the safety, health and well-being of all members of our community," Averill wrote.

The university has repeatedly cited privacy concerns as the reason it has not disclosed the exact nature of the allegations against Galloway.

But signatories of the letter say the secrecy surrounding the investigation "casts a cloud of suspicion over Prof. Galloway and created the impression that he was in some way a danger to the university community" — an impression they say the university did nothing to counter.

"The university's willingness to allow the suspicions it has created to continue to circulate is surprising and appears to be contrary to the principles of fairness and justice that should guide any distinguished academic institution," the letter reads.

Primary 'serious' allegation unsubstantiated

In December 2015, the university commissioned former B.C. Supreme Court justice Mary Ellen Boyd to independently investigate both the initial allegation, as well as others that came forward later.

Boyd's findings were never made public and CBC News has not seen a copy of the final report.

But according to the letter's signatories, Boyd was not able to substantiate a majority of the allegations against Galloway, including the primary "serious" allegation.

According to the UBC Faculty Association, all but one of the claims against Galloway were found by Boyd to be unsubstantiated.

To date, no criminal charges have been filed against Galloway, and UBC has still not publicly revealed the exact nature of the allegations against him.

University should have involved police: Thien 

Boyd's findings are also referred to in a separate letter sent to senior UBC administrators by program alumna and 2016 Giller Prize winner Madeleine Thien, who claims to have seen the report.

In her letter to UBC — sent in September — Thien says the university should have involved police, if the allegations were criminal or violent in nature. She says that, instead, UBC "went public with frightening innuendo" before any investigation had occurred.

Madeleine Thien wrote a letter to UBC in Galloway's defence in September. (Babak Salari/Penguin/Random House)

"We are dependent on the framework and foundation of criminal and constitutional law, the necessity of evidence and the right to a fair hearing," Thien wrote. "Without these unassailable rights, any individual can have their life destroyed."

"As a survivor of sexual assault, I do not take the law lightly," she wrote.

In the letter, Thien also requested that UBC remove her name from their list of alumni and all UBC promotional material and social media, saying she no longer wished to be associated with the university or its creative writing program due to how Galloway's case was handled.

"The university has taken a tragedy and turned it into [an] ugly, blame-filled, toxic mess, destroying lives in the process," Thien wrote.

In a statement, UBC said an independent and experienced arbitrator agreed to by both the university and the faculty association is already reviewing the decision after the faculty association filed a grievance.

It also said UBC is prevented by privacy law from detailing the allegations against Galloway "unless he waives his right to privacy, which he has not done," pointing out "confidentiality is a critical part of UBC's review processes not only for the respondent but also for complainants."

Attempts to reach Galloway for comment were unsuccessful.