I choose to believe that everyone who has entered into this discussion is actually on the side of women having safe spaces to work and study, and is pro-justice and pro-dignity. As a starting point, this seems to me a reasonable assumption to make about smart people.
Yet we find ourselves shouting across a widening chasm, and we are all so deafened by concussive grenades that it may be futile to add anything more. Still, I want to explain why I signed the letter. And why, even though I am aggrieved by the hurt it has caused—and think now that a different approach, one that couldn’t be mistaken for a pile-on, might have yielded better results with less turmoil—I feel removing my name would only do harm.
This has been, from the very outset, an issue fueled by bad communication, driven, I think, by UBC’s desire to be seen to be doing the right thing. The public, given a nugget and left to their own devices, made up their own story, to the benefit of no one.
Since the release of the letter, writers on all sides of the chasm have done little to clarify or build channels for respectful dialogue. I am as troubled by allusions to witchcraft trials—witchcraft being a made-up threat, unlike sexual harassment, abuse and assault—as I am by accusations that anyone who signed the letter is advocating for silencing or censuring women.
I’m certainly not.
You should know that the email Joseph Boyden sent to writers began:
I am writing to ask you to join me in signing an open letter requesting that the University of British Columbia do an impartial review of its handling of the allegations made against Steven Galloway. The letter speaks for itself, but I want to reiterate that it does not draw conclusions about guilt or innocence, but focuses on a process that ill-served complainants and Mr. Galloway.
That note shaded my reading of the letter, as it no doubt did for others. I wish those qualifiers had been as clearly stated in the letter itself. Nonetheless, I’ve read the letter countless times since, and it simply does not suggest that anyone is a liar, or that complainants should be silenced. In fact, it says, “We, the undersigned, respect the principle of protection for individuals who wish to bring complaints.” If it didn’t say that, I wouldn’t have signed it.
It is true, however, that the letter focuses solely on Steven Galloway’s right to due process. I think that’s legitimate—this right belongs to everyone, regardless of the nature or veracity of allegations against them.
I reject the notion that advocating for one person’s rights is advocating against another’s.
In fact, I feel sure that insisting on the application of due process is advocating for both accused and complainant. Without a fair and transparent process, an outcome can never be credible, and justice can’t be seen to be served.
I agree that our systems too often fail women who allege sexual harassment or assault. Across decades, little has changed around victim blaming, judgment on women’s sexuality, non-reporting, victim’s shame, boys-will-be-boys thinking, and poorly handled investigations and prosecutions.
We cannot afford to add to these problems by seeming to deny the right to due process in some cases, and then serving up high-profile examples of the tremendous harm that can do. Such an approach will only spark the worst kind of backlash.
If I were suddenly able to know all that had occurred in relation to the allegations against Steven Galloway (I know nothing but what’s been reported in the papers), if I were granted some gift of absolute truth, it would not affect my conviction in this. My issue is that the way UBC handled this, especially in its communication to the public, was so flawed and destructive that it did a great disservice to those directly involved, and to the public understanding of fairness and justice.
The intent of the letter I signed is very clear. It asks that UBC “establish an independent investigation into how this matter has been handled.”
To back away from that request now would be to say that due process doesn’t matter, and that people can say whatever they want, as loudly as they want, based on as little information as they have. We already have enough examples of the harm that’s doing in the world.