I’d like to pay my respects to those of you who are still hanging in there. I’d also like to salute Carmen Aguirre, whose public statements on the Galloway case have been particularly lucid and incisive from the beginning. And since it has lately been suggested that we all pack up and go home, I’d like to say why we should not.
I myself have never met Steven Galloway nor any of his accusers. I therefore have no knowledge or opinion concerning the truth or falsity of the allegations against him. But as many of us have now said many times, Mr Galloway’s innocence or guilt is not and never has been the subject of the accountability dispute.
I do, on the other hand, have some acquaintance with UBC. I enrolled there as a graduate student in 1972. Later I was on the faculty for several years – starting on 24 hours’ notice when Pat Lowther disappeared in September 1975 and I was called in to replace her. (We did not learn for certain until 1977 that she’d been murdered by her jealous husband.) I’ve been tangentially and informally involved with the university ever since. That involvement has been happy and productive in many ways. But even in Lotusland, things can and do go wrong. A university can be (and usually is, in my experience) a community of smart, self-motivated people and a cumbersome, blundering, basically stupid institution both at once.
It is not hard to spot a malfunctioning institution, anymore than it is hard to tell the difference between a healthy salmon stream and one that is clotted with logging debris and plastic. Nor is hard to see that both need help.
UBC’s handling of the Galloway case has been and remains a clear instance of institutional malfeasance and irresponsibility. This is sad but not entirely surprising. Clarity and courage are not virtues one can normally expect from institutions in a fundamentally selfish and visionless society. And institutions, after all, do not have brains. They cannot think. That task always falls to the individuals within them – or, if the problem is more urgent, to individuals outside. It is much the same with salmon streams. In the wreckage of the stream there may be healthy and beautiful saxifrages and frogs; downstream there may also be healthy salmon trying to enter; but all these together may not be able to cart away the crud, nor even to form an accurate picture of the problem.
The petition to hold UBC accountable for its mishandling of the Galloway affair – in particular its failure to stand up and respond, openly and honestly, to the report of Justice Mary Ellen Boyd – provoked a remarkably thoughtless gut reaction among some members of the Canadian literary community. Those of us who petitioned the University were told, by some of our friends and acquaintances, that by insisting that Mr Galloway get a fair hearing – legally and administratively – we were silencing victims and aligning ourselves with rapists.
I assert that all persons accused of crimes – even those we may despise, such as Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton, and Roy Lowther – deserve a fair trial. None of these three, as it happens, was involved with a university, but Lindsay Shepherd was, and I assert that Steven Galloway, like Lindsay Shepherd, deserves not only a fair trial (if any charges should ever be laid) but a fair and open administrative hearing. It took some trouble and some luck for Lindsay Shepherd to get her fair hearing. Mr Galloway has not been that lucky thus far, but we have to keep trying.
The assertion that every accused deserves a fair hearing is radically different from the assertion that everyone or anyone accused of a crime is innocent. No one who thinks about the matter can fail to see that the one is a just principle, the other a preposterous distortion. But institutions cannot think, and some individuals are unwilling to. Those of us who are willing to think have to keep doing so – for their sake as well as our own.
Best wishes to you all,
Robert Bringhurst, OC