“Look for a long time at what pleases you, and longer still at what pains you…”
Advice to a young writer, from the French novelist Colette.
I am thinking of that advice, as I search for words to answer the question of why I signed the “UBC Accountable” letter requesting fairness and due process for Steven Galloway.
Like so many both in and outside the Canadian literary community, I feel I have been looking for a long time at this painful matrix of issues. It was, after all, more than a year ago that Steven Galloway was suspended because of “serious allegations” against him. University students with concerns about their “safety and well-being” were advised to seek counselling support. For all practical purposes, Professor Galloway’s life crashed and burned, while the University allowed hugely damaging suspicions first to circulate, then to fester beneath a shroud of secrecy — secrecy which surely has been as damaging to those who came out with complaints about him as it has been to Galloway himself.
So it seemed promising, recently, when a large group of Canadian Writers came forward in an open letter to UBC — a letter that specifically stated respect for the principle of protection for those who had brought complaints, while at the same time respecting the right of an accused to fair treatment – requesting that the University establish an independent investigation into how the matter had been handled.
A day or so later I learned that some writers were withdrawing their signatures after hearing that student complainants in the case were feeling upset and ganged-up-upon by this group of established writers, and that the letter signalled disbelief in the students’ claims.
It was at this point that I felt impelled to add my signature to the letter.
I respect the heartfelt motives of those who have withdrawn their signatures. And I certainly respect the right of the complainants to bring their case. But I can’t help feeling that the vehement backlash that has occurred against the signatories, involves a dangerous twisting of the issue.
The letter upholds a principle of protection for those who brought complaints against Steven Galloway, while requesting fairness and due process for him. The backlash suggests that in clouded issues of this sort, where feelings run high, complainants should be allowed to speak freely and damagingly, while those who speak out demanding “due process” should be shamed into silence.
And to me this speaks against all that a serious writer should uphold – the broad based looking, for example, that Colette prescribes.