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Canada Has a Silencing Problem

February 18, 2018

On February 5, 2018, I remember my first thought when I read Zoe Whittall’s excellently contextualized first version of CanLit has a Sexual Harassment Problem: “Finally, a national opinion piece which doesn’t toe the UBCaccountable line.”

And my second thought: “Some people are going to be pissed.”

I expected her publisher, The Walrus, to face pushback from UBCaccountable, the signatories of the “due process for Steven Galloway” letter. Especially because in the mainstream press to date, as Ms. Whittall correctly notes in her piece, the celebrity signatories of UBCaccountable have had total control of the narrative of his firing. Critics of UBCA have not been deemed worthy of equal access to publication. As previously helmed by “free speech” supporter Jon Kay, The Walrus itself was once a comfortable port for UBCA signatories with wind in their sails. They instantly got all kinds of blow-hard opinions published there unopposed. I commend The Walrus for finally publishing the other side of the story.

Before I examine the changes that were made Ms. Whittall’s piece, I want to go on record that I am not simply defending a friend. I respect Ms. Whittall’s work, but I have never met her. Believing it important to document the response to her piece, I screenshot all her tweets and those of UBCA, as it went up on Feb 5, 2018, then had an addendum added, then got pulled down entirely. As she tweeted on Feb 6, 10:56am, “It was taken down for additional fact checking after threats & will be republished. The Walrus is being very supportive…”

Once it was republished, on Feb 12 11:12am, Ms. Whittall tweeted, “It did have some factual errors that were my fault (the timeline was wrong) but what Jake says here is true” referring to this tweet quoted in hers by @McArthurMooney, “From last week. Happy this article is back up but still mad we have to pretend it had vague “journalistic” problems like it wasn’t brought down by a coordinated legal threat from aggrieved parties.”

Why do we have to pretend? We put CanLit in danger if we do.

I want to be diamond clear that I do not blame Ms. Whittall for trusting The Walrus throughout the changes to her piece. Writers are supposed to be able to trust their editors and publishers. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be asked under legal threat to agree to make changes in the moment, to be told what is, or is not, legally acceptable when you are not a lawyer. Under that pressure, I’m sure every writer would try to salvage their work as best they could. I respect her for trying to do that under extraordinarily stressful conditions.

I also want to be clear about what I do know about that “coordinated legal threat from aggrieved parties.” Someone who directly participated in the process, who has asked me to keep their comments confidential, wrote me and twice confirmed their first-hand knowledge: “It was vetted by Walrus’ lawyers and multiple signatories made complaints. Galloway and Atwood were definitely two of them.”

I note that this stands in contradiction to Ms. Atwood’s tweet of Feb 7, 1:58pm which reads, “& for the record: Nooo, I have not sicced any litigation lawyers on any publications (recently). That’s simply a pure lie pure + simple. @walrusmagazine took a piece down for fact checking. I did not ask them to do that. If you want to know something why not just ask me?”

I suppose this statement could technically be true. Lawyers may not have been “sicced on” The Walrus as in, not physically sent snarling into the building housing them. Or perhaps, “litigation lawyers” were not sent, but “personal lawyers” were heard from. Given multiple “aggrieved parties,” there were likely multiple “legal threats”: potentially cease and desist orders, take down orders, law suits for libel, and/or other legal actions. I do know that the threat of legal big guns is every writer’s nightmare.

And we all know this: intimidated speech is not free speech.

When The Walrus removed an already published op-ed piece for after-the-fact “fact checking,” that was alarming. We need to evaluate both the quantity and quality of change it produced. In an op-ed, no one expects “fact checking” to result in the wholesale erasure of opinion. Or the cutting of whole paragraphs. We absolutely do not expect the addition new ones. In Canada, no one would have predicted this kind of silencing problem: a “coordinated legal threat” has resulted, not just in cuts to original content, but also in the forced new insertion of pro-UBCaccountable bias and disinformation.

I understand why no one dared critique it. I’m afraid even as I write this. I understand why Can Lit breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was “over.” Understandably wanting to sympathize with the legal threat Ms. Whittall experienced, people congratulated her when her piece went back up, noted some of its new strengths, and said nothing further.

But while the “threat” may be over for Ms. Whittall, it is only just beginning for CanLit. In our desire to support a single author, we failed at three more important things. We allowed the erasure of the voices and the very existence of those for whom it is most definitely not over: the Main Complainant, the MC in the group of complainants who reported Mr. Galloway to UBC. We allowed the published work of a respected prize-winning author to be taken down, rewritten and weaponized to promote the interests of a powerful man and his powerful friends. And we self-silenced, pretending not to see the terrifying implications. Capitulation emboldens bullies. Silence is complicit.
Pretending nothing happened insures but one thing: that the next writer to cross UBCA will face this “collective threat” again.

I do not make these claims lightly. I believe that it is possible to both support Ms. Whittall and to critique the heat under which her work got cooked.

And the proof is always in the pudding.

In a close reading that took several days, I copied both versions into Word and compared them word-by-word. I asked the following two questions:

1. When does a fact check become a rewrite?

All books and articles get fact checked before publication. Every writer expects small changes. We’re grateful for editorial corrections to names, dates, quotes, and events. A fact check generates the occasional edit, inclusion, and rewording, but the work itself is little changed. That is not what happened here. As per the wonder of Word Count:

• The original piece is 3,738 words and Version #2 is 4,460 words
• This is a net gain of 722 words
• But I tracked both cuts and additions: 825 words were cut
• Version #2 is 4,460 words because a total of 1,547 new words were added.
• Totaling cuts and additions 2,372 words were changed

There were many cuts to original content. Ignoring cosmetic changes, spelling, rewordings, or single word changes, Version #1 had 25 substantive content cuts:

• 19 cuts between one and five sentences
• 6 full paragraphs were cut.
• a total of 42 sentences disappeared completely.

And, even more alarmingly, there were many additions to original content. Likewise ignoring cosmetics, Version #2 had 23 substantive content additions:

• 21 additions of between one and six sentences
• four entirely new paragraphs.
• a total of 51 new sentences added
• of the original 32 paragraphs, only 11 paragraphs remained unaltered

This is not “fact checking” by any definition. It’s a full content rewrite.

2. When does a rewrite under “threat” become censorship and propaganda?

The real issue isn’t how much got changed, but what got changed and why.

In examining the changes, I admit I’m not a lawyer. I do know you cannot libel a person with the truth. I’ve also read a lifetime of magazines and newspapers and certainly know what has already been published on this matter without any legal challenge. Like all writers, I have an educated layperson’s researched understanding of libel as it applies to our work. Especially in op-ed pieces, we are protected from lawsuit by “Fair Comment,” as quoted here from the Canadian Bar Association, under defences against libel: (https://www.cbabc.org/For-the-Public/Dial-A-Law/Scripts/Your-Rights/240)

4. Fair comment
We all are free to comment—even harshly—about issues of public interest, as long as we are clear that our comments are:
• statements of opinion, not fact.
• based on facts that can be proven.
• not made maliciously.

It would take forever to evaluate the over forty substantive content cuts and additions as Ms. Whittall’s original became Version #2. I’ve chosen only a few of the most important changes to evaluate here.

A) The most concerning change is the full erasure of the MC
This is the original P18. Everything in bold was cut completely:

It’s sticky territory. Attraction and desire are complicated; the last thing I want to do is induce a sex panic. But these issues become even more complicated when one party says an encounter was consensual, and another says it was not. While Galloway has claimed he had a consensual affair with the main complainant at UBC, she has stated her assault accusations were not about an affair at all. Articles on Galloway repeatedly mention that he “had a relationship” with a student—and yet, out of the two people involved, he is the only one to have classified it as such. What does this tell us about who we believe? What does this tell us about men who use their power (grades, reference letters, publishing referrals, internships) to get laid?

In Version #2, this is Paragraph 24. The first three sentences reappear identically, but with an entirely different subject matter, as bolded:

It’s sticky territory. Attraction and desire are complicated; the last thing I want to see is a sex panic. But these issues become even more complicated when one party says an encounter or relationship was consensual and another says it was not. In many ways, the conversation that has emerged after Galloway, and now Concordia, is about power dynamics. Even before Galloway was fired, UBC had started assessing whether professors should be allowed to have relationships with students, and in general, much discussion has centred on whether those relationships, if they happen, can ever be consensual. After all, in such a dynamic, a professor has control over a student’s grades, reference letters, publishing referrals, and internships. In reference to her time as a student at Concordia, author Heather O’Neill told the Montreal Gazette last month that “I was harassed by a particular professor there, who…groped me in ways that to this day make me cringe”—and also offered to edit a book of her poetry that was forthcoming at a publishing house where he was an editor.

The MC is never mentioned in Version #2. While it is easy to see why UBCA might push to erase her, what possible legal grounds would they have to do so? If The Walrus felt on shaky ground paraphrasing the MC’s words, surely they could have quoted her lawyer? The press release of lawyer Joanna Birenbaum, documenting the MC’s position that her complaint was not about an affair, but of sexual harassment and assault, has already been widely quoted by other newspapers and magazines. What, or who, prevented The Walrus from including it here?

It’s important to note that not only has the very existence of the MC been erased, she has been replaced by a paragraph that debates if students and profs should have affairs, exactly the “debate” that UBCA and Mr. Galloway’s lawyers want us to have. Not quoting the MC’s lawyer is particularly indefensible when Version #2 Paragraph 7 newly contains this direct quote from the press release of Mr. Galloway’s personal lawyer, hired beyond the free lawyer provided by his UBCFA contract:

“According to a statement by Galloway’s lawyers in November 2016, the retired justice who carried out the UBC investigation “found on a balance of probabilities that Mr. Galloway had not committed sexual assault.…The sole complaint substantiated was that Mr. Galloway engaged in inappropriate behavior with a student.”

In other words, The Walrus removes the MC’s personal account of sexual assault but does print Heather O’Neill’s personal account of sexual assault. The Walrus does not publish the already much-published press release of the MC’s lawyer, but quotes Mr. Galloway’s lawyer verbatim. This not “fact checking.” This is bias. And it continues to permeate the entire piece.

B) Version #2 reframes the piece with a long addition of UBCA spin

The original Paragraph 5 reads as follows:

(P5) In November 2016, almost 100 authors—including Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, and Michael Ondaatje—published an open letter to UBC calling for “Steven Galloway’s right to due process” and critiquing the university for the way it handled the novelist’s firing after he was accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault. (It now lives on the website UBC Accountable.) Responses to the letter from activists and academics, including Galloway’s former students, classmates, and colleagues, as well as other writers, myself included, were swift. Many felt the letter writers gave their collective (and considerable) power to the side that already has the most power. As writer Flannery Dean put it in Flare, the letter “seemingly privileged the rights of one of their own—fellow novelist Steven Galloway—over alleged victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and bullying.”

It gets expanded in Version #2 into Paragraphs 5 and 6. Everything in bold is a new pro-UBCAccountable addition to the original.

(P.5) In November 2015, Steven Galloway was suspended from his job as a tenured professor and chair of the creative-writing program at the University of British Columbia “after serious allegations.” UBC commissioned an external investigation and then fired Galloway in June 2016, citing a “record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of trust.” The investigative report was never publicly released. In November 2016, more than eighty authors—including Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, and Michael Ondaatje—published an open letter to UBC calling for “Steven Galloway’s right to due process” and critiquing the university for the way it handled the novelist’s suspension and later dismissal. In it, the signatories stressed that “no criminal charges were laid against Professor Galloway at the time [of his suspension]. None has been laid since.” The university’s initial public response, the signatories argued, had “cast a cloud of suspicion over Professor Galloway and created the impression that he was in some way a danger to the university community.” They called on the university to “establish an independent investigation into how this matter has been handled.” (The letter lives on the website UBC Accountable.)

(P.6) No matter what the letter has since come to represent, or what conversation has evolved around it, it’s worth noting what Joseph Boyden, who spearheaded its circulation, originally told signatories: “[the letter] does not draw conclusions about guilt or innocence, but focuses on a process that ill-served complainants and Mr. Galloway.” Even so, the open letter largely focused on Galloway and the ways in which the university’s actions have affected his personal, public, and professional life, and it made little mention of the complainants. Responses to the letter from activists and academics, including Galloway’s former students, classmates, and colleagues, as well as other writers, myself included, were swift. Many felt the letter writers gave their collective (and considerable) power to the side that already has the most power. As writer Flannery Dean put it in Flare, the letter “seemingly privileged the rights of one of their own” over those of complainants in an investigation into sexual harassment, sexual assault, and bullying.

Since the UBCA letter in Nov 2016, I have done my best as a former union Branch President to debunk what I see as UBCA’s deliberate misrepresentation of union due process in order to create their “innocence narrative.” I find it sadly ironic and truly unconscionable to see these same factual errors reproduced uncritically here in a revision that claims to be the product of intensive “fact checking.”

For example, in P.5 there are three factual errors in these two sentences: UBC commissioned an external investigation and then fired Galloway in June 2016, citing a “record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of trust.” The investigative report was never publicly released.

Error 1: UBC did not “commission an external investigation.” UBC hired an optional consultant to do an internal investigation. Their consultant, retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mary Ellen Boyd, was bound to keep it internal by labour law, privacy law, Mr. Galloway’s UBCFA employment contract, and the confidentiality agreement signed by all parties.

Error 2: Legally, her report can never be “publicly released.” But, an unverifiable version was leaked, an alleged Boyd Report that the pro-Galloway defense forces who leaked it have been quoting ever since. Whenever anyone “quotes” it, they are actually “quoting” comments made by Mr. Galloway’s defense team. Everyone else has respected the confidentiality agreement. Given UBCA control of the media, they’ve sold the public and many journalists who should know better, on their spin that an optional, leaked, unverifiable consultant’s report has both authority and legal standing. Mainstream media has aided and abetted them. For example, in Margaret Atwood’s, Am I a Bad Feminist article in The Globe and Mail, Jan 13, 2018, she gets away with calling it, “an inquiry by a judge,” asserting that “the judge said there had been no sexual assault,” and proclaiming, “The not-guilty verdict displeased some people.” I repeat again for the umpteenth time: There was no judge. No charges. No courtroom. No verdict. A consultant’s report has no legal standing of any kind. UBC is free to ignore it if they wish. No one should be quoting it as fact. It isn’t.

Error 3: Even the newly-added dismissal quote is wrong in UBCA’s favour. Version #2 added this: UBC commissioned an external investigation and then fired Galloway in June 2016, citing a “record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of trust.” This is not fact checked. It’s not even cited. It’s in quotes but not attributed. Here is the exact wording of the press release of UBC VP External Relations, Philip Steenkamp, as quoted in The Canadian Press, (June 23, 2016): “Coupled with the dean’s recommendation and the investigative findings… the President concluded that there was a record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of the trust placed in faculty members by the university, its students and the general public.

The emphasis on the word the is mine. As previously documented on this blog, whenever anyone in the media incorrectly cuts the quote down to “an irreparable breach of trust,” it’s a critical error that fuels the innocence narrative. It a reduction that permits pro-Galloway forces to insist he was fired for “a breach of trust,” which they confidently reduce to one single breach of trust, which they conveniently define for us as “a consensual affair.” The Walrus needs to re-examine these additions and do a real fact check, one that does not reflect UBCA bias.

C) Did you catch the tiny but telling cut to the original P5 when it became P6?

I missed it at first, too. The original read: As writer Flannery Dean put it in Flare, the letter “seemingly privileged the rights of one of their own—fellow novelist Steven Galloway—over alleged victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and bullying.”
Version #2 reads: As writer Flannery Dean put it in Flare, the letter “seemingly privileged the rights of one of their own” over those of complainants in an investigation into sexual harassment, sexual assault, and bullying.”

The deliberate removal of Mr. Galloway’s name is not a fact check. How can quoting a published article in a legitimate national magazine put The Walrus in any legal jeopardy? It can’t. This kind of pandering and capitulation reoccurs throughout the piece.

D) Here is another telling revision to the original P6:

(P.6 Original) … the symbolic effect of our country’s literary elite banding together to use their celebrity against a female student making a complaint against a professor feels wrong.

(P7 Version #2) … The symbolic effect of our country’s literary elite banding together without explicitly supporting the complainants felt wrong.

E) And another:

(P6 Original) If the UBC Accountable group had published its letter in fall 2017 instead of 2016, how might it have been received? Might we have worn Time’s Up pins to the Gillers?

In Version #2, this gets moved to the end of P8, to conclude a discussion of the wider issues of supporting women in CanLit: If these conversations in the CanLit community had started in the fall of 2017 instead of in 2016, how might they have been received? Might we have worn Time’s Up pins to the Gillers?

F) Pro-UBCA cuts and additions reoccur in P7 which becomes P9.

The bolded portion of P7 was cut. The addition in P9 is also in bold.

(P7) If there’s anything I’ve learned while touring a book about rape it’s that most people, including our country’s literary elite, do not believe the data we’ve had for decades about sexual assault. They don’t believe it is not the bogeyman in the alley that we most have to worry about; the majority of sexual assaults are committed by people the victim knows. Nor do they want to 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. And they seem to think that hearing an accusation of sexual assault is “unsubstantiated”—in the case of Galloway, a pronouncement made by a retired judge in the union-approved legal proceedings at UBC—means an assault didn’t occur. All it means was that it couldn’t be proven. And is that really a shock, when we live in a world where most people don’t believe women who speak out?

P9 reads the same for the first two sentences, then becomes:
Nor do they want to believe that, like the main character in my book, 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. And is that really a shock, when we live in a world where most people don’t believe women who speak out?

I agree that the phrase “a pronouncement made by a retired judge in the union-approved legal proceedings” is incorrect and needed fact checking. But it could easily have been rewritten as “as UBCA claims is in the leaked Boyd Report,” and the rest of the sentence left intact. I can only assume it all got cut simply because it criticized UBCA. And, likewise, apparently the belief that someone can be an excellent teacher and still be capable of sexual assault, must only apply to Ms. Whittall’s fiction, not to real life professors.

G) Another Pro-UBCA revision and addition occurred as P11 became P14:

(P11) I found myself on stage with Madeleine Thien who’d helped spearhead the UBCAccountable site, and I didn’t want to have any tension.

Although this sentence is factual, as Ms. Thien is on record in her own letter to UBC as one of the first supporters of UBCA, it got changed to:

(P14 Version #2) I found myself on stage with Madeleine Thien, who weeks earlier, had written an open letter criticizing ubc’s handling of Galloway’s case saying, “I believe you have failed everyone involved…The university has taken a tragedy and turned it into an ugly, blame-filled toxic mess, destroying lives in the process.” I didn’t want to have any tension with Thien who had close ties to the ubc writing community.

Does this mean a writer cannot even mention a UBCA signatory, unless they also agree to quote their pro-UBCA proselytizing?

H) This is paragraph 14 of the original which was cut in its entirely:

Not only are the signatories of UBC Accountable still defending Galloway a year later, they’re now doubling down, even when others raise the question of how their actions might affect complainants or emerging writers who have experienced sexual harassment. Some of their arguments are reasonable: of course an accused professor should be allowed to defend himself. And sure, of course women are capable of lying. But such defensive rhetoric also relies on the assumption that there is an even playing field to begin with, a system that actually supports those who make accusations. That’s simply not our reality.

How could any of this be legally objectionable, let alone libelous under “fair comment|’? The fact that the signatories are still defending Mr. Galloway is repeatedly in print for all to see. Ms. Whittall’s concession statements are clearly opinions: that a professor should be allowed to defend himself and that women are capable of lying. And, presto, these very same ideas aren’t objectionable when they reappear in Paragraph 18 of Version #2, this time attributed not to discussion of UBCA, but to discussion of Ms. Whittall’s book:

P18 Version#2 When I was touring The Best Kind of People, the topic of due process inevitably came up during the question-and-answer period, and it quickly became clear to me that different people understand the concept in different ways. Some of the arguments I heard during these sessions are reasonable: of course an accused person should be allowed to defend themselves. And of course women are capable of “the full range of saintly and demonic behaviours,” as Margaret Atwood wrote in a Globe and Mail article last month.

Apparently, it’s not libelous to say women lie, as long as Ms. Atwood is the woman saying it.

I) In the next original paragraph P15, the bolded section was cut entirely.

What UBC Accountable is saying is not new and it’s not specific to UBC. It’s a very ordinary, predictable reaction to any sexual-assault allegation. It’s the reaction that kept Harvey Weinstein abusing with impunity in an “everybody knew” environment for decades, and it’s what kept Concordia from caring about its culture of gender inequity. From the outside, it appears reasonable; who doesn’t like “fairness,” after all? But it’s a smokescreen. It assumes an even playing field, and it assumes that a fair, unbiased system set up to hold powerful white men accountable actually exists. And it does not. Not at a university. Not in a courthouse. Not in Canada.

This is clearly opinion based on fact. How can it be legally actionable? And again, the last four sentences are apparently libelous in a paragraph with the word UBC Accountable in it but not libelous when applied to “people.” They reappear as stand-alone Paragraph 21 of Version #2: People assume that a fair, unbiased system set up to hold powerful white men accountable actually exists. And it does not. Not at a university. Not in a courthouse. Not in Canada

J) Another small change that speaks volumes

For several days, I thought that the original Paragraph 26, which became Version #2’s Paragraph 31 was one of the few that stayed identical, until I noticed this tiny change:

(P26) These discussions emphasize that people actually believe women everywhere are suddenly lying about assault – but to me, the real hysteria is that people think that suddenly women everywhere are lying about assault.

(P31 These discussions emphasize that people actually believe women everywhere are suddenly lying about assault – but to me, the real hysteria is that people think that suddenly women everywhere are lying about assault.

God forbid that free speech might mean that a writer is free to italicize the absurdity of what UBCA wants us all to believe. God forbid that we think at all.

K) The Curious Case of an Addendum That Didn’t Stay One:

The Walrus put up a short-lived addendum before taking it and Ms. Whittall’s piece down entirely: “An earlier version of this article did not include the fact that a 2016 investigation ordered by UBC and never publicly released, found a claim against Steven Galloway to be unsubstantiated. The earlier version also incorrectly stated that Galloway received a standing invitation in the hospitality suite of the Vancouver Writers Festival in 2016. That statement has since been removed, and the article has been updated to reflect new information.”

All the language of the “investigation” sentence magically reappears fully developed in Version #2. And the applause comment itself is incorrect and needs to be fact checked. The original read, “While working on a deadline one night during the festival, I missed Galloway enter the writer hospitality room—people reportedly burst into applause.” A “standing ovation” was never mentioned. The only place I saw it called “a standing ovation” was on twitter when on Feb 6, 9:50am UBCA devotee Brad Cran offered his opinion as to why the article got taken down: “It contained outright false information including an insane lie that Galloway received a standing ovation at the Writer’s Festival hospitality suite. She reported made up lies.”

All mention of this applause incident was cut from #Version 2. Why? Either it never happened, or folks in CanLit are too scared to admit they heard applause. If it did happen, but The Walrus didn’t look for confirmation, that’s irresponsible. If writers refused to come forward with confirmation, CanLit is in real trouble. It’s time to grow some fortitude.

And consider this: why wouldn’t UBCA want to hear applause for Mr. Galloway? Perhaps you can’t be ruined beyond measure and be “forced” to sue for damages and defamation if your colleagues applaud you?

M) I’ll end with my personal favourite change, from P10 to P12 Version #2:

I know it’s a career risk to keep being outspoken against UBCaccountable.
I know it’s a career risk to keep being outspoken against sexual harassment in CanLit.

There are many more changes both large and small made as Ms. Whittall’s original piece got reframed and rewritten. They all shift in the same wind. I can accept that some of these changes may have seemed individually reasonable at a rushed and worried time. I also believe that pro-UBCA bias is so pervasive, has so successfully saturated the press and controlled the narrative, that we don’t see it as bias. Take the graphic that led both articles, for example. It’s a cut and paste of all the most biased pro-Galloway phrases of the UBCA letter, which read together, create exactly the spin UBCA would love to perpetuate. How does that belong on a piece entitled, CanLit Has a Sexual Harassment Problem? Why did nobody catch it?

Having read and re-read the two pieces non-stop for several days, I believe they need to be seen in the aggregate. In my opinion, Version #2 smacks of two things: fear and appeasement.

The sheer number and quality of cuts and additions suggest to me that folks were running scared. It appears that they needed to accommodate so badly that they over-compensated and capitulated even when not strictly legally necessary. They cut entirely rather than reword.

Version #2 did add supportive quotes by others, by Laurence Hill, Heather O’Neill, Natalee Caple, and Nyla Matuk, which did strengthen Ms. Whittall’s intention, and I respect her for publicly appreciating that. But the safe, already-published, quotes of others were added at the expense of her original content. The integrity of her opinion was repeatedly compromised. Her voice was cut, and first and foremost, this was her piece.

Why did Version #2 result in the wholesale gutting of her personal opinions? They have disappeared, not for any imaginable legal reason, but simply because some “aggrieved parties” didn’t like them. There can be no other reason, for example, for cutting this line from P24 of her original: “It is worth noting that to the best of my knowledge no woman under the age of forty signed their name to the UBCAccountable letter.” If fact checking produced women signatories over forty, simply amend the line to “all but one signatory, or two, or whatever.” To cut it entirely is ridiculous, unless UBCA thinks they can pass themselves off as spring chickens.

I also cannot understand or defend how this addition to Version #2 P14 got past any kind of “fact checking”: “It wasn’t lost on me that nobody had published an open letter specifically in support of the complainants.” That is flatly untrue. The Open Counter Letter was posted in answer to UBCA explicitly supporting the complainants and survivors of sexual assault. Ms. Whittall signed that letter. To date, so did another 632 supporters. And Julie Rack, Natalee Caple and I have posted two further letters to UBCA supporting complainants and survivors and asking UBCA to take down their site. These are all documented on the Counter Letter site, https://sites.google.com/ualberta.ca/counterletter/home a link not provided by The Walrus, which in its expert “fact checking” saw fit only to link to the UBCA site.

I also fully admit that the cutting from the original of Ms. Whittall’s kind reference to my fact checking of Ms. Atwood’s Bad Feminist article is a slur on my work, but given everything else that got cut, it’s no surprise. I emailed The Walrus several times over the last full week politely asking why this occurred. UBCA celebrities get instant replies and action, but I got no reply. I stand by my fact checking, especially in the light of what passed for it in The Walrus rewrite.

It is important to note that UBCA has kept up the pressure of nasty disinformation against Mr. Whittall’s piece on twitter. As the champion of “free speech,” on Feb 5 10:57pm Jonathon Kay first tweeted, “just me…or is the fact that Steven Galloway isn’t actually guilty kind of an *incredibly important* fact to leave out of an article demanding that Canadians treat Steven Galloway like he’s guilty. It’s almost like it makes the article look like a joke.” And later, “So @walrusmagazine seems to have yanked the botched @zoewhittall libel job on Steven Galloway, perhaps helping to restore sanity to this issue as Galloway gets justice from UBC. Who would have thought Zoe would be the one to make people realize how insane they’ve become?” Apparently, ableist mental health slurs are a staple of Mr. Kay’s free speech vocabulary.

And, of course, signatory David Mount also graced twitter with his “legal” opinion as to why the MC’s opinion had to be removed: “That “fact” had to be removed because it’s libelous. It is irresponsible journalism to fail to mention another fact—the fact that the independent investigator UBC hired found that the allegations could not be substantiated.” And on Feb 13 3:59pm: “The Walrus could address a potentially libelous statement by deleting it (which they did) or add a comment that the allegations have not been proven (which is the way most new outlets usually operate) or report that the allegations are false (which is the truth).”

By this “logic,” all free speech “due process” signatories should be protesting Version #2 precisely because it’s an article of “irresponsible journalism” revised to remove all mention of opposing facts. Have they done so? To quote Ms. Whittall’s excellent, but censored, original conclusion, “Of course not.”

What should we all do now? As I see it there are three choices.

1. Doing nothing. Staying silent. Pretending nothing happened.

2. Asking The Walrus to honor Ms. Whittall’s work and voice, to post a revised version that includes the legal statement of the MC and does a fact checking worthy of the name.

3. Asking Ms. Whittall and/or the Walrus to take Version #2 down. Bare minimum Version # 2 should not carry the same Feb 5 date as the original as if the “coordinated legal threat” never happened.

I do know one thing that will absolutely happen next: UBCaccountable signatories, supporters and trolls will come at me any way they can. Let them. If UBCA wants to threaten me, they’ll need more than a letter they paid some lawyer to write. They’ll need more than a Cease and Desist letter threatening legal action. They’ll need to file their case. And they’ll need to win it. They’ll need a Cease and Desist Court Order signed by judge. That, and only that, will make me take this blog article down because I honestly believe that everything I’ve written here falls under “Fair Comment.”

I suggest that all of Can Lit needs to make that same resolve. We all need to learn our legal rights about what does and does not constitute libel and defamation. Fear and silence serve only those who want us to be cowed. In case my blog gets taken down against my will, please feel free to copy, resend, and repost it now, any way you may wish.

Because this is far from over. I don’t subscribe to the theory that UBCA brought legal threat against The Walrus simply because they lost the instant airing they once had in it. I honestly believe that the interference in Ms. Whittall’s piece was only a shot across the bow, a warm up exercise for the real target of UBCA: the upcoming publication of Refuse: CanLit it the Ruins, co-edited by Erin Wunker, Julie Rak and Hannah McGregor, as announced in Quill & Quire on Jan 19, 2018.

As Book*hug publishers Hazel and Jay Millar posted on their site in response to the recent attack by UBCA signatories on Refuse co-editor Erin Wunker: “To be blunt, we feel that a line was crossed. It distresses us to learn what lengths some people are willing to go to discredit those whose points of view differ from their own.”

That line will be crossed again. I wonder how those signatories who weren’t part of this “coordinated legal threat” are feeling now? How can they continue to lend their good names to blatant interference in free speech? If I got on a friendship/due process train that became a censorship and propaganda train, I’d get off immediately. More importantly, I wonder how all the complainants feel to have had a national voice for a few hours, before they were erased yet again by powerful celebrity voices who threaten the free press and claim no harm was done?

Canada has a silencing problem. Theirs and ours. We need to fix them both.

From → Uncategorized

One Comment
  1. Northern Dancer permalink

    Excellent work as usual!

    One word jumps out at me from UBC’s statement on Galloway’s dismissal –

    …President concluded that there was a record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of the trust placed in faculty members by the university, its students and the general public.”

    The word is record – (record of misconduct) (see dictionary definition below)

    rec·ord
    noun

    1.
    a thing constituting a piece of evidence about the past, especially an account of an act or occurrence kept in writing or some other permanent form.

    2.
    the sum of the past achievements or actions of a person or organization; a person or thing’s previous conduct or performance.

    Interesting!

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