In an exclusive account, author Steven Galloway reveals for the first time how shocking accusations of sexual assault devastated his career — and his life. In the fall of 2015, Galloway was suspended as chair of the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia for unspecified “serious allegations.” By the summer of 2016, he had been fired over what the university called an “irreparable breach of trust.” But last month, an arbitrator awarded Galloway $167,000, ruling that UBC violated his privacy rights and damaged his reputation. Now, in his own words, the celebrated novelist says he will no longer be silent.
I have been silent for over two and a half years. At first, I was silent out of respect for the investigation undertaken by Justice Mary Ellen Boyd. Later, when I challenged the University of British Columbia’s characterization of Justice Boyd’s findings, I remained silent out of respect for the grievance process initiated by the faculty association.
I have also been silent because responding to the allegations against me is complicated, fraught from the outset and only intensified by the unbelievable maelstrom that followed.
I realize that anything I say will be used against me. I will be accused of victim-blaming and discouraging victims from coming forward. The hatred and gleeful malice I have seen directed at me, my family, and anyone with the temerity to suggest I am not a monster has shattered me. I have watched as individuals who have never met me spent the past few years relentlessly attacking me, treating it all like some sort of game, a way to carve out a name for themselves. They display their false virtue like the tail feathers of a peacock. One University of Alberta professor puts her hatred of me in her official bio, and when I wrote to her asking that she take into account that I am a human being with feelings, and that my children read what she says about me, she responded by hosting a live-tweeted “academic” conference in which I was called a rapist and compared to Robert Pickton.
All victims of sexual assault are owed justice. All women should be listened to and all complaints and accusations thoroughly and fairly investigated. Many of the preconceptions we have about sexual assault have been, historically, entirely wrong. But listening, as a default position, should not mean that any accused person is automatically, irrevocably guilty. It is not the case that 100 per cent of assault allegations are true, though that certainly would make the world simpler. Only in fascist states does an allegation equal a conviction, be it in a court of law, a workplace, or a community. Is that how we want our world to work?
What I must reject is the notion that I am guilty of appalling crimes because someone said that I am. I am not. I did not commit the crime I was accused of. This is not a question of differing interpretations of events: The events alleged against me simply did not happen.
In the spring of 2013, a graduate student came to me to report that she had been sexually assaulted. She texted me seeking support, reluctant to disclose anything for fear of “fallout.” This was my response: “There will be NO fallout. I support you 100%.”
When she reported her allegation to me, I replied, “I will do whatever you wish me to do.”
The graduate student told me that a man who was interviewing for a job at the university had choked and groped her. She did not want to formally report the alleged assault but wanted assurance that the man would not get the job. I reported the incident to the Program Chair, Keith Maillard, and he notified the Graduate Advisor. Instead of taking the allegation to the Dean’s Office, we respected the graduate student’s request to keep her complaint confidential. Under Maillard’s direction, steps were taken by the three of us to ensure that the candidate didn’t get the position.
The graduate student later texted me, “Did you have an opportunity to talk to Keith about removing (the applicant) from the (short)list?” I said yes, and she replied “Thank you, Steven. I feel a whole lot better.”
The graduate student was a number of years older than I was and had already completed a different graduate degree. She had worked as a professor and was respected in her field. I was aware that during a previous professorship she had accused her department head of harassment with some “fallout,” so assumed that on reporting a sexual assault to me she was worried about a negative response. I cared about her and wanted to reassure her that would not be the case. I did not doubt her for a single moment.
On Nov. 12, 2015, just days before her graduation, she reported to Keith Maillard that I had, in the spring of 2012, choked, groped and raped her. Maillard, with the help of an alumnus of the program and several other faculty members, began working on the case that would ultimately lead to the conclusion I was guilty. The Main Complainant, or MC, as she has become known, later changed her claim to allege three sexual assaults had occurred instead of one. Her claim of when the alleged assaults occurred changed, too, from 2012 to 2011, as did her claim of the location of the most horrific alleged assault.
One of MC’s friends, a novelist who had graduated from the program years earlier, decided that the best way to support MC was to convince other people to bring complaints against me. She told UBC she knew of 19 others who would be coming forward with assault complaints, and the university, in turn, armed her with a letter on UBC letterhead soliciting their complaints, pledging to “honour your strength.” She then went through the writing community telling people I was a violent rapist and encouraging them to come forward. (This form letter and its paper trail were provided to Justice Mary Ellen Boyd during her investigation.)
It was nearly two months before I found out what the allegations against me were. It was a terrifying time, one where I slowly learned the extent to which my former colleagues were committed to my guilt. I did not understand how it could be possible for there to be so many complaints against me. It turns out it wasn’t.
The novelist collected complaints from seven people, all of whom were her friends and none of whom were current students at the time of investigation. Though I had taught at UBC for 15 years and the public appeal for complaints was printed and broadcast in most major media outlets in the country, all of those who would become the ancillary complainants were part of her immediate social circle.
None of the ancillary complaints were of sexual assault. Three of the eight statements of complaint did not actually contain complaints; one, from a man who graduated in 2011, said he had come forward motivated by a resolve to support women. He wrote to Boyd: “I was sadly not surprised about the allegations because of the frequency with which rape and sexual assault against faculty members in universities all over the world come up, as well as the frequency of sexual assault/rape/harassment women have to endure in general, that is ironed over by the rape culture we live in. I was very shocked to hear that Steven has been accused of rape at first, but… I’m sadly resigned to the fact that it isn’t something unimaginable.” This manifesto is an accurate description of the mindset of my accusers, one where once something isn’t unimaginable it must have happened, and nothing is unimaginable.
Another ancillary complainant said I wouldn’t let him submit poetry in my fiction class. Another said she once felt she had flirted with me, and later felt awkward about it. Another said that while I never behaved toward her in any way that was unprofessional, she felt that I should have spent more time at home given that I had a family. Another said I didn’t hire her for a job. Another said I didn’t hire her friend for a job. Another complained that I had asked her how she had come to know so much about human trafficking (the subject of her thesis), which offended her. All of these ancillary complaints are of a similar nature. All of these complaints are documented in signed complainant statements, all of the complainants disclose they had been told that I had choked and raped MC, and all of them hold sentiments mirroring those described above.
Of the novelist who gathered the ancillary complaints, Justice Boyd concluded: “I found (her) a biased witness, who has perceived every minor incident here through her own biased lens. I am unable to place much, if any, weight on her evidence.”
The one complaint that has garnered the most speculation online and in the media involves me slapping a graduated writer. This writer was confident, boisterous, and thrived on controversy. I liked her a great deal, as did everybody. She frequently punched me in the arm, and once put a snowball down my shirt. Once, while she was a graduate student, she was upset by a comment I made in jest and in response, she denigrated my work and slapped me in the face. I did not report this behaviour because it wasn’t necessary; I understood, as she did, the spirit of the behaviour and that no harm or disrespect was intended. After she slapped me, I continued the joke: I told her that once she graduated I was going to slap her back. It became a running joke between us, frequently referenced by her in person and publicly on social media. When she graduated several years later, I sat down beside her in full view of dozens of other people, lightly cuffed her and said, “Now we’re even.” We laughed at the time. She later posted to my Facebook page, “Besides, you bought me a $3 beer after, and that made me happy (I’m a simple woman).”
The joke was unprofessional, and I regret having conducted myself that way. More broadly, treating students as peers was a mistake. When I began teaching at the age of 25, students were my peers; I felt absurd presenting myself as an authority figure. Over time this dynamic changed, and I failed to recognize it happening. Prior to becoming Chair of the program, I corrected my behaviour, though I did so too late in my career. But I am not and have never been a violent person and this incident was not an act of violence. As Justice Boyd stated: “Given what each of them actually experienced, knew or understood about each other in this situation — namely that the slap was the culmination of their own longstanding ‘joke’ — it is difficult to conclude that the slap was an act of harassment or abuse. The matter was out of mind for the next three-and-a-half years before (she) was reminded what had occurred, and in light of the recent allegations regarding MC, reconsidered the matter and decided (in the context of allegations of choking and rape) that the slap was objectionable.”
I try to imagine the ancillary complainants believed they were doing the right thing, that they had resolved to believe stories of assault, no matter what, and that they were trying to provide important support for MC. When I knew these people, they were good people. But faced with untruths, they responded with malice. I will never understand how they were able to do what they did; how they thought that, for example, my having made a joke to a male friend on Facebook about a Captain Haddock costume made it more likely that I was a rapist. These people were not victimized by me. They have gone on to publish books, receive grants, get jobs, and win major literary awards. If they have wounds, their wounds are self-inflicted.
My entire life appears to have been reframed. Writers who never took a class from me have been claiming on Twitter that I was a terrible teacher who didn’t help them. People who have never interacted with me have said I treated them badly. It has been suggested I am somehow homophobic. My race has been attacked after, in response to an allegation that I was a white supremacist, it was revealed on Twitter that I have some Indigenous ancestry. (Like many adopted people, I’m not sure of my entire or precise racial makeup or biological family history, and have never commented publicly on it.) It is difficult to describe how fundamentally disorienting it is to have your life, your words, everything about you suddenly and vehemently re-ordered and re-categorized to fit a prevailing false narrative. It makes you doubt yourself, through to your core. Even though I knew that what people were saying wasn’t true, it began to feel true. This is what bullying does: It makes you hate yourself.
My former friend and colleague Keith Maillard, a man I both loved and admired, tweeted in June 2017 that he was a “proud member of the Twitter mob” that has been relentlessly hounding me. For 20 years I knew him as a thoughtful, empathetic, compassionate human being. He was a father figure to me — I have literally taken him out for dinner on Father’s Day. He never spoke to me again after MC made her accusation and has brandished his pitchfork with a zeal I will never be able to fully comprehend.
I will say this again: I did not assault my accuser. A highly respected former B.C. Supreme Court judge, Justice Mary Ellen Boyd, after conducting an exhaustive, five-month investigation, determined that she was “unable to find” that any of MC’s allegations happened, and that not a single one of the ancillary complaints constituted any form of misconduct. She did so applying the lowest burden of proof available to a complainant anywhere in our society, with the fewest protections for a respondent. Under the standard applied — the balance of probabilities — all that was required was for MC’s accusation against me to be slightly more plausible than any defence I might offer. The complainant was permitted to have legal counsel present at all interviews with Justice Boyd, while I was not (the collective agreement between the university and the faculty association prohibits it). She was not cross examined, and I was not permitted to put any questions to her. She wrote a narrative; I provided a written response; we were each interviewed, and she was then given an opportunity to respond to my evidence. We were both permitted to suggest witnesses Justice Boyd might like to interview.
MC alleged that I assaulted her on three separate occasions in the spring of 2011. I provided evidence to the contrary. We began an extramarital affair in the spring of 2011, which lasted for two years. She was a former professor, older than me, a mature student in the Creative Writing program; I was a sessional instructor in the program at the time our relationship began; both of us were married. After initially denying the existence of our relationship, she was confronted with over 250 pages of text messages, Facebook posts and photographs exchanged between us during this time frame that showed our closeness, our care for each other, at which point she admitted there had been a two-year relationship, which she characterized as “traumatic bonding.”
Despite what has been reported, I have never sought to block MC’s access to the Boyd Report. She received it over a year and a half ago with redactions applied by UBC and reviewed by an investigator with B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) in order to protect the personal information of numerous persons other than MC. I did not and do not have the power to block MC from seeing the portions of the Boyd Report to which she is legally entitled. As for the few pieces of what was determined to be my personal information that are redacted, I have no intention of waiving any rights that the law provides me. Given that MC has relied on the same laws to keep her identity confidential throughout this process — a right I was not afforded, with catastrophic results — it is not reasonable or fair for her, or anyone, to ask this of me. My rights and privacy have been trampled upon enough to last me a lifetime.
MC is well aware of the contents of the report and its findings, particularly those relating to her allegations of sexual assault. She is also aware that she admitted to the two-year sexual relationship between us, which Justice Boyd characterized thusly: “From the Spring of 2011 until the Spring of 2013, the parties were involved in an extramarital affair, in which there is no allegation of harassment or sexual assault.”
One of the most persistent claims related to the Boyd Report is that I have violated a confidentiality agreement by disclosing its contents. This is not true. While I was being investigated I was not permitted to speak publicly about the proceedings (a condition not imposed on any of the complainants, many of whom did speak to the media), and I am now not permitted to speak about the arbitration process (as ordered by the arbitrator), but the information contained in the Boyd Report is legally mine. Were I misquoting it, the other parties in possession of the report would be well within their rights to say as much. They have not.
I do not deny that my relationship with my accuser was unethical. I was, am and will always be deeply sorry for it. I let down my family, my employer, my colleagues, and the community to which I once belonged. I regret many things, like most people. I do not intend for the above to serve as my sole apology; I have and will continue to make my apologies personally to those whom I have let down. Before having any idea that MC was accusing me of sexual assault, I tried to apologize to her for our relationship, leaving a voicemail that has been reported in the press. My apology to MC stands: I accept full responsibility for my part in our relationship. It has caused catastrophic damage, and we both owed ourselves and our families better conduct. I owed my employer better conduct.
For some, there is nothing I could say or do that will satisfy them. I accept that. Everyone reading this, or any of the words that may be written in response, is entitled to their opinion. I’m not going to spend my life arguing.
But I’m also not going to walk through this world in shame. It has been demonstrated amply that there are many people who consider it unacceptable for me to want justice or to be cared about by others. Anyone who tried to support me or the idea that what happened to me was wrong has been viciously attacked — Margaret Atwood was repeatedly called a rape apologist. Just consider that for a moment. Consider what someone like her (we have met only briefly and are not friends) must have experienced and seen and how hard she had to work to become “Margaret Atwood.” Read her writing. The notion that she is the enemy of women is beyond ludicrous. And yet, for example, she’s been called a “shitty white woman” by a professor in the SFU publishing program in her university-sanctioned podcast on feminism. Writer and actor Carmen Aguirre, whose family worked for the underground resistance movement against the Pinochet dictatorship and who, as a child, was raped at gunpoint in the woods near UBC by a serial rapist, was called an MRA propagandist by Keith Maillard for writing an article in The Walrus defending my right to due process and essential humanity. Writers, predominantly women, have been blacklisted from conferences, lost publishing and teaching opportunities, and been professionally ostracized for the crime of not instantly condemning me.
It is not an offence to survivors of assault, to women, to feminism, for me to be innocent of the claims being made about me. Accepting the fact that I was falsely accused does not and should not mean that women reporting sexual assault in the future will not be taken seriously.
The last two-and-a-half years have been a hell I would not wish on anyone. I do not desire for anyone, including my accuser and her supporters, to be subjected to online bullying. I support a process in which both complainants and respondents are treated fairly by the legal system, the press, and the public. It is only thanks to the support of my partner, family, and friends that I am still here. I have been humiliated and vilified, and I’ve felt it. To those who were hurling vitriol at me, congratulations. Your punches landed, and they hurt. Particularly those who knew me and rewrote me as a monster: I’m not a monster. I’m the person you knew who is flawed, who has made mistakes.
I know what I have done and what I haven’t. I’ve done good in this world as well as bad, and it is not for anyone to strip me of my humanity. Many of my former colleagues, people I loved, seemed to celebrate my destruction. I am forever unwelcome in the program that was my home since I was a 19-year-old undergraduate student (one professor once told the Globe and Mail that it felt like I was born in the halls of the Creative Writing Program). I became a writer because of my time as a student at UBC, and I wanted to pay the program back for that, to ensure that others could benefit the way I had. Instead I became a bogeyman, expressly presented as a danger to the student body, as an agent of harm. From the day I was suspended, it was inconceivable that I could ever safely walk those halls again, regardless of the outcome of the Boyd investigation.
The fact is, no faculty member, staff member, or student is currently safe at the University of British Columbia — not because of me, but because of how the administration handled allegations against me. UBC is an institution whose primary motivator is self-protection. If you doubt this, ask yourself why the university has gone to such great lengths to hide the fact that one of their professors was cleared of sexual assault charges. In the current climate, exoneration is a PR nightmare.
When my first novel was accepted for publication I was 23 years old and encountered nothing but supportive people in the world of Canadian writing. That changed overnight. Recently, “CanLit” has been described as a dumpster fire. Though juvenile, the description is apt. I’ve watched what I always imagined to be a kind, inclusive, supportive community turn against itself. The cruelty some people have displayed has been shocking. There have always been those who seek to build themselves up by tearing others down, but I’d never seen so much of it until recently. We have been taken over by a bloodlust in a search for targets of indignation.
When one of my children comes to me and complains that one of their siblings called them a mean name, my response, which I got from my grandmother, is to ask them if they really are what their sister or brother said they were. They answer no, and I tell them knowing that is enough.
I’m taking my grandmother’s advice now. Though I have no wish to quarrel with anyone, I will no longer be silent. I won’t accept further shame or bullying, or the lies that have been told about me. I was investigated and I was exonerated. An arbitrator ruled that UBC violated my privacy rights and caused damage to my reputation. I won’t let others define me in ways that ignore these central facts.
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