Defamation and The Damage Done
An Inventory of Harm in CanLit & Galloway v. A.B.
In defamation law, one of the key elements of determining whether a case has merit is the question of what harm the defamation has caused. In cases where the defamation involves allegations of a criminal nature, such as sexual assault, the court rightfully assumes that harm has taken place. Nevertheless, in the recent PPPA “Anti-SLAPP” application brought by eleven of the defendants to dismiss Galloway V. A.B et al, it was strongly argued by the applicants that Steven Galloway has, as a result of being called a rapist by each and every one of the defendants, not suffered any harm or, in the alternative, that any harm he has suffered is either his own fault or the fault of the University of British Columbia. It is worth observing, at the outset, that while UBC’s conduct was reprehensible, at no point did the University use the words “rape” or “sexual assault” when refering to Galloway. They were, it would appear, content to let the defendants do this for them.
When it comes to the harms Galloway has suffered since UBC breached his privacy in November of 2015 by publicly announcing that he had been suspended as Chair of UBC Creative Writing, pending “serious allegations,” perhaps the swiftest and most severe punishment he received was being instantly deemed persona non-grata among his peers. In 2014 Zoe Whittall called Galloway “a brilliant Vancouver novelist” in the pages of The National Post, but by 2018 she was comparing him to Harvey Weinstein in the pages of The Walrus and criticizing the “literary elite” for not wanting to blindly, in the absence any facts, “believe that someone can be a great friend, excellent teacher and mentor, and good husband or father and still be capable of sexual harassment or sexual assault.” While of course it is possible for Whittall’s proposition to be true, what Whittall was actually saying was that it must be true, because it was possible. And any resistance to this line of thinking was met with immediate and forceful rage.
On June 8th, 2018, Globe and Mail journalist Gary Mason published an exclusive interview with Galloway, in which the embattled novelist recounted the emotional damage from being accused of rape, having the allegations fall apart, being cleared of the charge of sexual assault and then being publicly tarred as guilty anyway. As he told Mr. Mason:
“It’s darn near killed me,” Mr. Galloway told The Globe and Mail in the first interview he has granted since his ordeal began in the fall of 2015. “And truthfully, I still think about killing myself on a daily basis. I just don’t see much of a future for myself. I’m trying. I’m fighting it. But it’s hard.”
For those who had gone full in on Galloway’s guilt, any acknowledgment that Galloway had suffered harm was a form of blasphemy. In response to Mason’s interview, the novelist Kevin Hardcastle, who has never had any personal interaction with Galloway, tweeted, “what a load of shit from this scheming, manipulative little man.” Even the theoretical possibility of Galloway’s innocence or any pain such allegations might cause— even his existence at all, remains an affront to those that married their own reputations to the presumption of his guilt.
So how badly had Galloway’s reputation been harmed? Severely enough that Mr. Hardcastle, who is a mixed martial arts enthusiast trained in karate, Muay Thai and boxing, was threatening Galloway with violence simply for having talked to a journalist about the destruction of his life. Mr. Galloway is not a trained fighter and at the time was struggling with such acute PTSD that he was visibly infirm. He lost nearly thirty pounds and developed an uncontrollable tremor in his hands. At one point, his close friend David Chariandy, who gave witness testimony to Justice Boyd that was instrumental in Boyd dismissing the assault allegations, was so concerned for his physical well-being he brought him a carton of protein shakes.
But in the eyes of his detractors Galloway was expendable, if not sub-human, and a mere mention of his name would elicit mockery, threats of violence and outrage, like that which was bottled up in Mr. Hardcastle.
In the media and on social media Galloway would never be given the opportunity to rationally define the harm done to him, let alone address it. The Supreme Court of British Columbia is of course an entirely different forum, with the issue of “harm” being a central question argued in the Anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss his defamation suit. Over twelve days of oral submissions, as many as 18 lawyers participated and argued over the issue of Galloway’s harm and whether it is real, imaginary, nominal, severe, justified and/or actually his own fault.
Pleaded Harm In Galloway v. A.B.
Galloway’s Notice of Civil Claim pleads harm to his reputation, upset and emotional damage, as well as special damages including the destruction of his writing career. In his second Affidavit Galloway states the damages in more detail:
“The impact of the false statements upon me was immediate. Although I was not provided with the specifics, and before there was any process to respond and investigate the complaints, I was suspended from my position and the matter made national news headlines.”
“Up to that point I had been the author of four published novels, which included award winning and best-selling novels. I had also written a fifth novel, which was the first of three I was contracted to write for publication by Random House Canada. Since the time A.B. made her allegations, and the matter became national news and the subject of an avalanche of social media postings that contract was cancelled.”
Galloway’s Affidavit goes on to state that his average annual income for writing and speaking (not including his earnings at UBC) over the previous five years was $189,000 and following the false allegations it dropped to $15,000 in the first year and $12,000 in the second. His more recent fifth Affidavit states that despite the passage of time the impact continues to this day: he is still medicated for depression, cannot write and in 2019 earned roughly $30,000 from manual labour including a job cleaning swimming pools and public water features.
Response To Claims of Harm
A.B.’s counsel, Joanna Birenbaum, told the Court there was “scant evidence of any actual harm to Mr. Galloway flowing from the two expressions attributed to A.B.” and that Galloway had “failed to adduce any evidence of his harms despite repeated requests for documentary substantiation by the defendants.” Contrary to this statement, in a hearing made before Chief Justice Hinckson on Feb 5, 2021, counsel for A.B. made a number of requests to the court for documentation. Chief Justice Hinckson ruled that this request was a “deeper dive” that contemplated in PPPA law, and dismissed this request. In essence, he ruled that Galloway’s testimony of harm was entirely sufficient for the purposes of the hearing at bar.
Regardless, Ms. Birenbaum was firmly opposed to the assertion that Galloway’s pleaded harms could be attributed to A.B.’s allegations of rape. From Ms. Birenbaum’s cross-examination of Galloway:
Question: Okay. I'm going to come back to the harms that you claim against A.B. which is that –
Answer: Madam -- counsellor, please, with due respect, this is my life. Please don't laugh when describing the harms. That's just really not fair.
Question: Caused by A.B. I'm going to put to you, Mr. Galloway -- and I was not laughing.
Answer: You were.
Question: I said that I'm coming back to the question relating to the harms caused or you state caused by A.B. And I'm going to put it to you, Mr. Galloway, that A.B.'s report in November of 2015 did not result in you losing a book contract. There may have been all kinds of intervening events, with UBC issuing press releases and now what you've described as an ideological public discussion, but A.B. is not responsible for those harms. I'm asking you to acknowledge that.
Answer: A.B. is absolutely responsible for those harms. None of what you've just described would have happened if A.B. hadn't made a false report of sexual assault and encouraged dissemination of that report beyond a confidential reporting process. None of that would have happened.
Answer: I did not accuse myself of rape falsely.
Tim Dickson, counsel for the defendants Glynnis Kirchmeier and Mandi Gray, told the Court that his clients were only “tangential parties in respect of the plaintiff,” that no harm to Galloway specifically arose from their tweets. Mr. Dickson also told the Court that the claim against his clients does not have a high chance of success, and any remedy would be of extremely limited value even if the claims were to succeed.
Like nearly all the defendants, Mr. Dickson claimed there was no causal relation between his clients’ tweets and any damage to Galloway. From the cross-examination of Galloway by another of Mandi Gray’s counsel, Aria Laskin:
Question: You speak about receiving death threats and hate mail. None of those death threats or hate mail specifically mentioned Ms. Gray's tweets?
Answer: I have received a lot of death threats and hate mail over my life, and none of them have come with footnotes, so no.
Based on this answer, Mr. Dickson told the Court that “on cross-examination the plaintiff admitted that none of the death threats he received mentioned the tweets” so therefore the harm was not attributable to his clients.
The defendant applicants were equally dismissive of any pleaded harm to Galloway’s literary career and the suggestion that they may have played any role in the cancellation of his three-book deal with Penguin Random House. In cross-examination Ms. Laskin pitched the theory that Galloway’s literary career was not destroyed by a false accusation of rape but rather by his own ineptness and apathy in governing his literary career. After asking Galloway if his agent had pitched any novels to publishers, and being told that his agent had advised that was not feasible, Laskin continued to press the issue::
Question: Have you contacted any other agents to see if they would be interested in working with you?
Answer: No. I -- my agent is my agent. He's been my agent for 20 years. He'll be my agent until the day I stop. If his -- he's one of the best agents in the world. If he says something about the state of the industry, it's true.
Question: You have not filed any evidence to show any steps that your agent took to convince publishers otherwise?
Answer: Are we operating in a different universe, where publishers are clamoring to publish people who have been accused of rape?
In the same cross-examination Galloway was again questioned on a definitive link to Gray and Kirchmeier’s expressions and Galloway’s cancelled book contracts.
Question: Your agent didn't tell you that the stain was caused by Ms. Gray's tweets?
Answer: My agent does not know who Mandi Gray is.
In another cross-examination, responding to a similar question, Galloway also stated:
Answer: My agent has no idea who Ms. Kirchmeier is
Mr. Dickson told the Court that Galloway agrees that he has no direct evidence that suggests that Gray and Kirchmeier contributed to his harms, including loss of his publishing contract, citing most significantly the fact that Galloway admitted that his agent has no idea who Gray and Kirchmeier were and that neither the “sexual assault” allegations nor his client’s tweets were specifically named in the official letter cancelling his contract with Random House.
However, in preparation for this article I came across a tweet by Mandi Gray in which she wrote:
This, in turn, led me to a Facebook post calling for a boycott of all Random House Canada books and authors in retaliation for a Penguin Random House Canada tweeting support of Galloway. The post was published on the Facebook page of the UBC Chapter of an organization called Silence is Violence which was co-founded by Ms. Gray. At the time the UBC SIV Facebook page was largely used to promote media coverage of Ms. Gray and Ms. Kirchmeier, as well as to publish an open letter penned by Ms. Kirchmeier and a crowdfunding initiative whose funds were paid out to Ms. Kirchmeier, Ms. Gray and A.B..
This post and Gray’s tweet above were not entered into evidence so they are not currently before Madam Justice Adair but both can be presented at trial if their motion to dismiss is denied.
The UBC SIV Facebook post dated November 20th, 2015 reads:
UBC SIV is calling for a temporary boycott of Penguin Random House Canada over their uninformed defense of author and suspended professor Steven Galloway.
The post then infers Galloway’s guilt:
The hasty and unequivocal defense of Prof. Galloway is traumatizing to people who have reported men with power and a relative amount of fame. These people are often not believed because the men they report are likeable. Is it really so hard to believe that charismatic men with authority and power, e.g. Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, would abuse that power?
And finally, the post gives instructions for a coordinated boycott of Random House Canada using the hashtag #stevengalloway:
Tweet @RandomHouseCA and let them know what their hasty support of Galloway before any of the facts of the "serious allegations" are known is traumatic and potentially silencing. Also, of course let them know why you won't be buying anything from them for the foreseeable future. Use #stevengalloway #boycottrandomhouseca #thatsnothelping #ubcsiv #sivcanada to move the conversation forward.
Two days later Ms. Gray again tagged Random House Canada on Twitter with the following:
Then three days after that, on November 25th, 2015, Ms. Gray made it openly clear on Twitter that she had a political agenda:
Ms. Gray’s declared “master plan” is another potential indicator of malice, made all the more troubling when coupled with her and Ms. Kirchmeier’s admission under cross-examination that they did not in any way vet the allegations against Galloway. From Mr. Burnett’s cross-examination of Ms. Kirchmeier:
Question: …and in none of the conversations that you had with anybody else did you have any knowledge about any sort of particulars, when or where or what happened in any alleged rape; right?
Answer: I knew it was when she was a student. And I knew that she had graduated November 2015. So sometime before that. …
Question: And you certainly didn't communicate with Mr. Galloway about his side of the story?
Answer: How would I do that?
Question: Well, did you even try?
Question: And you're telling me and you're telling the court that you can't think of a single way you could have tried?
Answer: I just saw no reason to do so.
Ms. Gray likewise told Mr. Burnett that she did not make any attempt to ascertain or verify the details of the allegations other than considering “more subtle evidence” such as A.B.’s “state of being.” Ms. Gray also said that she didn’t think it was necessary to contact Mr. Galloway.
Ms. Gray’s third counsel, Mx. Laura Edwards also showed a lack of knowledge of the actual allegations against Galloway. I have filed three Affidavits in this case, primarily consisting of screenshots of the defamations at hand. In my cross-examination by Mx. Edwards they wanted to know which accusation dismissed in The Boyd Report lead me to form the conclusion that A.B. is a liar. The cross examination is as follows:
Question: Which accusation?
Answer: Which one?
Answer: In particular, the Belafonte.
Question: Pardon me?
Answer: The Belafonte.
Mx Edwards paused.
Question: Was that one of the instances of sexual assault or sexual harassment?
The Belafonte is the name of Galloway’s former boat and it is the location in which A.B. claims she was choked and assaulted. I explained to Mx. Edwards that the Belafonte was the location of the alleged assault and that Madam Justice Boyd was unable to find, on a balance of probabilities, “that the violent event described by MC occurred in March of 2011 or at all.”
So the first time Mx. Edwards heard even the most basic detail of A.B.’s allegation was during their cross-examination of me in an effort to prove that I was a biased witness who instinctively dismissed A.B.’s allegations. What became clear is that neither Ms. Gray nor her counsel even cared what the allegations were. Their next question was as follows:
Question: Would you agree with me that you don't believe anyone that claims they have been sexually assaulted -- or you don't believe anyone who claims they have been sexually assault until their assaulter is convicted?
Answer: No. That's not what I'm saying. Everyone is free to believe what they want….There's one thing about believing something if -- in something, and there's another about actually stating it on Twitter in a reckless manner.
In his oral submissions Mr. Dickson told the court that there was no proof that Ms. Kirchmeier’s tweets were guided by malice because, “Mr. Burnett did not even cross-examine her on her evidence of an absence of malice.” Ms. Birenbaum made the same argument stating that “A.B. wasn't even asked about a motive to lie in cross -- two cross-examinations.”
In Mr. Burnett’s Supplemental Outline of Argument he writes, “Some defendants have argued that they have deposed they had no malice and weren’t cross-examined on that. In fact they were, although the art of cross-examination is often one of not announcing to a witness what point is being established.”
In her oral submissions Ms. Birenbaum also denied that there was any causality between A.B.’s rape allegations and the cancellation of Galloway’s book contract because the cancellation occurred in February 2017 which was “long after A.B.'s report and more importantly after the plaintiff's public termination from UBC and the UBC Accountable letter,” which she claimed was the real cause of harm to Mr. Galloway. As she told the Court:
A.B. is not responsible for the fact that it was the plaintiff himself and his supporters who first disclosed to the public that the investigation involved reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
This assertion by Ms. Birenbaum is demonstrably false. Although Ms. Birenbaum is not acting for Ms. Gray in Galloway v. A.B., she did act for Ms. Gray in 2015 and in Ms. Gray’s assertion mentored her at the time:
Ms. Gray linked Galloway to sexual assault allegations on social media from before UBC even announced Galloway’s suspension. On November 20th 2015, the same day as UBC-SIV called for the Random House boycott, Ms. Gray suggested on Twitter that Galloway might be featured in the CBC’s documentary about Campus Sexual Assaults, which featured both Ms. Kirchmeier and Ms. Gray.
This tweet by Ms. Gray of course predates the UBC Accountable Letter by over a year. From my screenshot archive and examining remaining tweets, it appears that Ms. Gray was indeed the first person to publicly associate Mr. Galloway with allegations of sexual assault.
An interesting side note on this tweet is that this is the documentary produced by Ronna Syed, the CBC journalist that A.B. copied on her formal letter of complaint to UBC President Martha Piper (which only came out after she swore under oath that she had never discussed her allegations with Syed and unsuccessfully fought disclosure of this email all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada) and the same documentary that was at the centre of A.B.’s false claim of having had “CBC lawyers” vet her story, a false claim Lyon and Maillard presented to UBC Creative Writing Program faculty as evidence of Galloway’s guilt. A.B. now contends that while she did tell Syed of her allegations, she wasn’t doing so in Syed’s context as a journalist, but as a friend who she turned to for support. This tweet from Gray makes this already dubious claim seem all the more questionable.
In regard to the destruction of his academic career as a tenured Professor of Creative Writing, the defendants argued that they were not responsible for any harm to Galloway since Galloway could not distinguish the harm to his career that came from being accused of rape from the reputational harm of him being accused of sexual harassment. Ms. Birenbaum stated it as follows:
The plaintiff has made no effort to unscramble the multiple harms from UBC's investigation and public statements for which he was compensated from the harms that he says were caused by A.B. Instead the plaintiff lashes out and blames his victim.
Remember, A.B. is not advancing a defense of truth/justification in this hearing, but is still asking the court to operate as though Galloway is, in fact, a rapist.
The defendants leaned heavily on the finding of Mary Ellen Boyd that Galloway had sexually harassed A.B. within the meaning of UBC’s Policy 3 and UBC's Statement on Respectful Conduct, as well as subsequent findings by UBC that they bundled together in what they called “breach of trust.” The defendants also alleged that Galloway distorted the public view by not disclosing Boyd’s findings, but Mr. Burnett argues that Galloway had no duty to put the findings into public view, particularly since he is prepared to prove them untrue and knew they would just be more fodder for the defendants to seize on in order to publicly vilify him.
Given that Boyd’s finding of harassment relied entirely on her acceptance of A.B.’s credibility, and given that Boyd did not have access to the information which is now on record regarding A.B.’s willingness to “pull any lever” necessary to make people believe her story, it is at best an open question of whether a reasonable person can rely on that finding. Burnett has stated repeatedly that Galloway is prepared to prove these allegations are also false if necessary, but that the sole matter being sued over is allegations of sexual assault, assault, and rape.
This is indeed the approach the defendants took in Court. Counsel for Calgarian actress Arielle Rombough, Sarah Ivany, argued that her client’s statement that Galloway was fired from UBC for sexual assault (verifiably untrue) didn’t cause Mr. Galloway any discernable harm since Galloway’s alleged workplace conduct (in dispute) would have ruined his career as a writer in the same way as being publicly vilified as a rapist. Ms. Ivany told the court that universities or writers festivals wouldn’t invite him to speak or teach either way and likewise as a writer, even with just the harassment finding, he wouldn’t have maintained the respect and loyalty of his reading audience.
All of the defendant applicants leaned on some form of vilification of Galloway to justify why they called him a rapist or sexual assaulter, or argued that his reputation and conduct was so vile that calling him a rapist or sexual assaulter would cause no further discernable harm. Again Mr. Dickson told the court that it was not based in reality to think that the damage to Galloway’s reputation was limited to him being accused of sexual assault.
Counsel for the defendant Brit Bachman told the Court that any harm Galloway suffered to his reputation as the result of her client’s expressions were “at most incremental and insignificant” while counsel for Dr. Kosman called the potential harm to Galloway “minimal to the point of non-existence, and Sara Whitmore, counsel for Chelsea Rooney, told the Court that “the plaintiff has suffered minimal or nominal damages.”
Ms. Whitmore also made a quite remarkable submission to the Court in which she suggested that a 2016 public statement in which Galloway’s lawyer confirmed that the Boyd Investigation did not find that Galloway had committed sexual assault was indeed proof that “any person could hold the opinion that may or may not be an inference from Ms. Rooney's tweet that UBC terminated him for sexual assault.”
In case the spectacular nature of Ms. Whitmore’s submission is at all obscured by imperious language let me rephrase it in blunt prose: She suggested to the Court that the fact Galloway felt compelled to publicly deny that he is a rapist is in fact proof positive that a reasonable person would Tweet that he is a rapist, while simultaneously suggesting that may or may not be what Rooney was doing.
Ms. Whitmore went on to tell the Court that there was “absolutely no harm” from Ms. Rooney’s tweets calling Galloway a rapist because they were published after UBC had already destroyed Galloway’s reputation. Counsel for Alicia Elliot also argued that the damage was done and that her tweets were likely drowned out by the vast amount of online discourse and “cannot be said to have harmed the plaintiff in any material way, if at all.” Counsel for Keith Maillard and Annabelle Lyon also told the Court “we respectfully submit that there is no harm directly caused.”
Multiple defendants also claimed that the case should be dismissed because of the small reach of their twitter followers or because Galloway could not separate the damage out amongst all the defendants. As Ms. Whitmore told the Court:
“The harm that's alleged is the same harm that's alleged in respect of all defendants. Mr. Galloway alleges the harm -- the harm he alleges to have suffered are alleged to have been suffered uniformly. He doesn't distinguish between Ms. Rooney or A.B. or the professors. He makes blanket allegations of harm against all defendants.”
This argument cuts to the heart of social media mobbing. The implication of this argument being accepted in a SLAPP motion to dismiss is that it would in effect make social media mobbing legal while marking targets of collective online aggression as expendable. From Mr. Burnett’s Outline of Argument on PPPA Application:
As to the argument by some defendants that they did not publish as many times or to as large an audience as others, it must be understood that a single publication painting someone as a rapist, posted for the entire world, is a grave matter. The attitude that a person should be able to fling such an accusation with impunity needs to be set straight.
Such an attitude evidences an attitude that the plaintiff is acceptable roadkill. It treats him and his reputation as expendable. The attitude that “just” one person’s involvement is not significant ignores the dynamic of a mob and the collective effect of many punches. The law of defamation rejects all these attitudes.
For nine straight days the defendants repeatedly denied any acknowledgement of harm to Galloway’s life and career as a writer, aside from the times when they took the position that the harm was self-inflicted and therefore not stemming from any of the multiple times their clients called him a rapist or sexual assaulter. Even the suggestion that Galloway’s future prospects may be hampered by tweets calling him a rapist were dismissed as ludicrous with counsel for Dr. Kiera Anderson stating, “it defies logic to think that a prospective employer, after reading about the allegations in articles from major news outlets, would bother with seeing what individuals were saying about it on Twitter.”
The harms the defendants did present to the Court were to themselves. Dr. Kosman’s counsel told the Court that her tweets calling Galloway a rapist caused no harm to Galloway but conversely, “the effects on Dr. Kosman arising from the plaintiff's claim is severe.” Ms. Elliot’s counsel also denied any harm to Galloway and instead told the Court that his lawsuit had harmed Ms. Elliott’s artistic freedom and ability to earn income as a freelance writer who regularly writes about sexual assault. Counsel for the Professors told the Court that A.B., the Professors, Rooney and others have already been severely attacked in the media, subjected to horrendous criticism. They have all claimed that Galloway has silenced them.
To this, Burnett replied:
“To the extent that some defendants have awaked to the reality that they should not publish a criminal accusation about a person they cannot prove – it is about time.”
He referenced Hill v. Church of Scientology of Toronto, a foundational defamation case, in which the Supreme Court of Canada stated:
“Certainly, defamatory statements are very tenuously related to the core values which underlie s. 2(b). [Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Freedom of Speech And Expression] They are inimical to the search for truth. False and injurious statements cannot enhance self‑development. Nor can it ever be said that they lead to healthy participation in the affairs of the community. Indeed, they are detrimental to the advancement of these values and harmful to the interests of a free and democratic society.
The final harms to catalogue in these defamations are the ones that won’t be heard in Court. They include the end of decades long friendships among writers in Canada. The formulation of blacklists in Canadian literature. Calls for censorship. And now that we know that the allegations against Galloway were built on lies, there is also the very real damage done to those that believed those lies, and in some cases used to re-order the literary hierarchy so that the true believers held the only permissible views, and those who advocated for the basic principles of justice (and an accounting of the facts) were deemed heretics.
On April 17th, after I published details proving A.B.’s duplicity, the writer Jen Sookfong Lee tweeted a walk back: “I don't know but maybe that dude just got fired for being a dick.” So has the Canadian literary community been tearing itself to shreds because someone was “a dick?” And is it even true that Galloway was a dick or is it more likely that the facts show that he was a flawed but beloved teacher whose life was destroyed by some of his closest students and colleagues because they were lied to?
In her Walrus article “CanLit Has a Sexual Harassment Problem,” Zoe Whittall presented Steven Galloway as the poster boy for sexual assault in Canada. But those allegations were built on lies. Are we now to downgrade the allegations to affirm that Galloway is a sexual harasser despite there being no evidence on record to prove that is true, and much that suggests it is not? Or is that finding by Boyd, devoid of context and openly in dispute by Galloway, simply a way to look away from the harm that has been caused?
What now is our obligation to truth and what happens if we continue down a path where we completely disregard it? Ms. Whittall’s essay was retracted by The Walrus because it was so full of errors and mistruths that it needed to be completely re-written. But instead of acknowledging the errors, or admitting that it had caused any harm, Ms. Whittall and her supporters would shepherd in a number of conspiracy theories to hold themselves unaccountable for believing lies.
The first conspiracy theory would be that her essay was taken down because of threats…
…and because, as MMA enthusiast Kevin Hardcastle put it, her article took “a bullet from some lawyers.”
None of these things are true. No lawyers were involved in the retraction or correction of Ms. Whittall’s article. Mr. Galloway contacted Walrus publisher Shelley Ambrose and politely told her that Whittall’s article was factually inaccurate. His email opens, “Thank you for calling me back so promptly, and for giving me a chance to articulate my concerns about Ms. Whittall’s article.”
Among the errors was Ms. Whittall’s claim that her visit to the 2016 Vancouver International Writers Festival taught her how the UBC Accountable Letter had splintered the Vancouver literary scene. The problem with her observations about the negative impact of UBC Accountable on the 2016 VIWF was that the VIWF happened in October— a month before the UBC Accountable letter was published.
Galloway also objected to Ms. Whittall comparing him to Harvey Weinstein and repeatedly inferring that he was guilty of sexual assault and abusing women when in fact he had been falsely accused of rape. There is not a single threat and Galloway ends the email politely stating:
There has to be a better and honest way to talk about sexual harassment, assault and #metoo. Thank you for considering my position regarding these issues and this article.
Even still, the conspiracy theory morphed, as conspiracy theories are apt to do, into an allegation that the threats had come from Margaret Atwood’s lawyers whom numerous supporters of Whittall claimed were out to silence her from telling the truth.
Ms. Atwood promptly corrected the record:
But even still we can always count on the purveyors of misinformation, Dorothy Palmer and Julie Rak to be at attention. Ten days later they were pushing the conspiracy theory that “Canada has a Silencing Problem.”
A few days later Whittall herself debunked the Evil Atwood lawyer conspiracy theory.
But remarkably she revived it this April as I began publishing the true facts of the Galloway case as made public by the anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss.
But then Ms. Whittall added details, making the conspiracy theory seem more credible.
The following week Ms. Atwood shared the Truth And Consequences post Truth, Lies and Levers of Power, which uses court documents to show how A.B. fabricated claims that CBC vetted her rape story, and threatened faculty at UBC Creative Writing to take action against Galloway with allegations that do not survive the most basic scrutiny. In response to Ms. Atwood’s tweet Ms. Whittall called this newsletter a “MRA (Men’s Rights Activist) conspiracy blog.”
The accusation that facts are conspiracy theories is of course another conspiracy theory in itself. It’s also another form of harm that these defamations have caused. CanLit does not have a “silencing problem,” CanLit has a truth problem. Writers in The New CanLit consider themselves beyond intellectual and moral reproach, but they enthusiastically embrace conspiracy theories about Margaret Atwood’s puppet master control over Canadian literature that are a near carbon copy of the Alt-Right’s QAnon conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s “control” over American society. After The Walrus fact checked and republished Whittall’s article based on the true facts, Dorothy Palmer declared that the facts were wrong and proof that the magazine was now under the QAnon-like influence of UBC Accountable.
But the most interesting UBC Accountable conspiracy theory involves the primary complaint that Galloway made to Ms. Ambrose, which is that in her original article Ms. Whittall included a fantastically fabricated event involving the 2016 VIWF. Now deleted from the current version of her article, the event was described in the original as follows:
While I working (sic) on a deadline one night during the festival, I missed Galloway enter the writer hospitality room—people reportedly burst into applause. What made his actions at all applause worthy? Why was he being heralded as a hero? More than a year later, I keep speaking out—even though it might make me look at a bit obsessed.
I’ve confirmed from multiple independent sources including but not limited to Mr. Galloway that this unequivocally never occurred. Ms. Whittall’s assertion that she “reported a much-circulated story by many witnesses that the room burst into applause” is a fabrication. She cannot possibly have talked to a single witness let alone “many witnesses” because the event didn’t happen. It is a conspiracy theory and what makes it a terribly interesting one is that it is nearly identical to the foundational Alt-Right QAnon Pizzagate conspiracy theory which posits that America’s “elites,” from liberal Hollywood actors to Democratic Politicians, belong to a cabal of immoral sex fiend pedophiles who secretly control the country while running a global sex trafficking ring.
In Whittall’s version, powerful Canadian writers (already we’re into fantasy land) led by Margaret Atwood, secretly control the writing community and do so to promote rape, defend rape-loving rapists and congratulate writers who rape their students by bursting into applause when they walk into a hospitality suite. There’s nothing about this conspiracy theory that survives any realistic scrutiny. It requires a person to believe an absurd set of propositions unsupported by any evidence whatsoever. On one hand you have documents entered in the BC Supreme Court registry, sworn statements, transcripts, and verifiable first-hand accounts, and on the other hand you have a drunk Walrus employee whose name Ms. Whittall can’t recall.
If in fact I have been duped, and it turns out that Margaret Atwood spent the last 60 years establishing herself as a feminist icon, writing foundational works of feminist literature that challenged the patriarchy, totalitarianism, fascism, and groupthink, all as a cover for her true goal of establishing a CanLit power structure devoted to the proliferation of rape, then the only thing I can say is that I will gladly admit I was wrong and apologize to Ms. Whittall and others who somehow saw through her ruse.
If the rise of the “new CanLit,” has taught us anything, it is that CanLit was not oppressive so much as fragile and that the writers who believed A.B.’s lies were able to use them as a springboard to stratify the literary community into those who “believe survivors” and those who are members of the pro-rape QAnon-like writer’s cabal that secretly controls Canadian Literature. CanLit has crumbled under the illiberal trends of the new CanLit, which have brought us literary boycotts, blacklists, censorship campaigns and a fanatical doctrine that deems writers with contrary views as heretics who must be banished.
Canadian writers are not pro-rape, nor would it seem is Steven Galloway. You can explore this possibility by doing what so many have refused to do: talking to him. As well as there being no proof that Galloway raped A.B., there is nothing on record to suggest Galloway’s testimony is anything other than credible and sincere (unlike A.B. who under oath has admitted to lying) so in the very least his testimony deserves to be heard and weighed, no matter how inconvenient that process is to his detractors. His stated views on sexual assault are articulate and so definitive that they are in fact dangerous to those who need to affirm their own positions by believing that he is not only a rapist but also a rape-loving proponent of rape. Ms. Birenbaum exhibited this reluctance to hear his views in her attempt to have him not state them under cross-examination:
Ms. Birenbaum: You make a point of saying that A.B.'s allegations of sexual assault were false and that she was very sexually forward with you. And I'm just trying to understand the inclusion of those words. So is it your position that a woman who is sexually forward is consenting to sex?
Mr. Galloway: I'm sorry, is that a serious question?
Ms. Birenbaum: Well, it is. You wrote this -- did you write this Affidavit, or did someone write it for you and you approved it?
Mr. Galloway: I believe my counsel and I wrote it together.
Ms. Birenbaum: Okay.
Mr. Galloway: Your question is based on a false premise. I am in no way, shape or form, nor would I ever in any way, shape or form, say that whether a woman is sexually forward or sexually conservative or, you know, wearing full body armour or naked or anything a woman does other than give enthusiastic and ongoing consent, to use the university's terminology, deserve to be physically sexually assaulted. And I have never stated that, and I never would. This particular statement is in direct response to A.B.'s false and ongoing assertions that she was an unwilling participant in our relationship, that --
Ms. Birenbaum: So are you answering the question of what --
Mr. Galloway: Yes.
Ms. Birenbaum: -- the relevance is of the fact that she was supposedly sexually forward?
Mr. Burnett: Yes, he is. Let him –
Mr. Galloway: Yes, I am. Because she has asserted consistently that she was rejecting me and did not want it. And she says, I repeatedly said no, and all this kind of stuff, none of which --
Ms. Birenbaum: We've already covered -- Mr. Galloway, we've already covered --
Mr. Burnett: He's got to finish the question.
Ms. Birenbaum: -- that the investigator --
Mr. Burnett: Ms. Birenbaum, he's going to finish his answer.
Ms. Birenbaum: Sorry, Mr. Galloway, can you tell me what question you're answering?
Mr. Galloway: Your question about why I would include the phrase that she was very sexually forward to me from the time we met and was an equal and voluntary participant in our affair.
Ms. Birenbaum: Okay.
Mr. Burnett: Complete your answer, please, Mr. Galloway.
Ms. Birenbaum: And so that's why you raised in this examination the fact that A.B. posted on a private Facebook posting that she was in a bikini? Is that part of -- part of what you think is relevant to your answer?
Mr. Galloway: No.
Ms. Birenbaum: Okay.
Mr. Galloway: Ms. Birenbaum, you're attempting to create an inference that I'm engaged in what I believe is colloquially known as "slut shaming." And I want to make it absolutely clear I am not doing that, and I have never been doing that. I will say as an operative principle, A.B.'s general attitudes and demeanour towards sex, her manner of dress and any of that is completely irrelevant –
Ms. Birenbaum: Okay. Good.
Mr. Galloway: -- to whether or not I physically assaulted her or she deserved to be physically assaulted or any of that. What I am saying and what I have consistently said is that in her representations in this lawsuit and to Justice Boyd, she presented an image of herself and our relationship which is entirely false.
Mr. Galloway’s actual views are as inconvenient to Ms. Birenbaum’s arguments as they are to Ms. Whittall’s conspiracy theories. But make no mistake that this too is one of the great harms that was borne of A.B.’s lies. Ms. Whittall didn’t deserve to be harmed any more than the rest of us.
While I didn’t know Steven Galloway in any meaningful way until recently, I have come to know him now. What I find interesting is that while he is clearly the person most harmed by A.B.’s lies, he has a clear path to healing that is not only rooted in the truth but in an absolute dedication to ensuring the truth comes to light. He does not hold out any hope that he will return to writing, and believes that whatever happens in this case there is no future for him as a writer, and he seems at peace with that. What he wants is for the truth to be known, and to help undo some of the damage that has been done in his name, to a community he once believed in.
Conversely, the more superficially harmed people who supported A.B.’s lies seem to be pushing further and further away from reality to the point where I wonder if eventually they will carry the lasting harm.
Of all the people who attacked Galloway online, I only know of one person so far who has come forward to correct the record and make amends. His name is Veldon Coburn and since getting to know him over the last year, I can say that he is one of the most principled, decent and courageous people I know. He possesses an all too rare form of courage, the courage to admit he was wrong on a matter of grave importance.
And just like that he too has a path to relieving himself from the harms A.B.’s lies have caused those who believed them.
It really is that simple. In this case it is true and beyond cliché that ‘the truth will set you free’ - while those that attune their minds to the illogic of conspiracy theories are building their own prison. By wilfully looking away from the truth, they will become prisoners of their own conscience, existing in opposition to reality and living a life unmoored, adrift in the purgatory of reason.