CanLit authors must put victims first

Fair trials needed for both the accusers and the accused

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Through November and December, 93 members of the CanLit elite signed a letter shaming the University of British Columbia (UBC) for their lack of due process in regards to the treatment of the Steven Galloway case. 

Steven Galloway was the chair of the creative writing program at UBC who was released from his position after months of investigation and several reports of sexual harassment, bullying and assault.

The open letter titled “An Open Letter to UBC: Steven Galloway’s Right to Due Process” was penned by Joseph Boyden and signed by writers such as acclaimed feminist Margaret Atwood, Carmen Aguirre and 90 other writers. The letter calls for “due process and fair treatment for all,” while referring to the victims a meagre one time. 

The letter continually asserts the rights for Galloway, a privileged cis male professor, to receive fair trial. Privileged white men are not historically wronged by the Canadian justice system. Although defenders of the letter say accusers deserve a fair trial as well, they do nothing to mention the misogyny in the Canadian judicial system and the systemic patriarchal forces that silence victims. 

The letter came under fire by The Globe and Mail, CBC, The Huffington Post and the vast majority of Canadian media outlets. In response to this, 28 of the authors penned statements, attached to their signatures on the letter, ranging from anger over the hurt survivors had felt from the letter to tender apologies over the effect of their name.

They apologized for the wounds they had caused. They used their words to scream at the university for its failures. They used their words to assert that signing the letter was a voluntary decision. And yet, while apologizing, while yelling, they refused to change their letter. 

So many of them acknowledged that the letter hurt and silenced victims and other women, and yet they did nothing to change the narrative that they created. Women have long been silenced from the effects of victim blaming, and this letter added more victim blaming to the already over-saturated rhetoric society has created.

The letter has long since been forgotten since the controversy surrounding its primary author, Joseph Boyden, has arisen. As such, the signatores found the perfect time to publish a second, more apologetic letter. 

Entitled “Procedural Fairness for All,” the second letter begins by acknowledging the social media backlash to the first letter and that it defamed many of the feminists who signed it. After acknowledging the hurt they felt about the angry tweets and unfavourable articles about them, they go on to acknowledge the rights of the accused. 

They say they stated the rights of the accused all along. However, if they acknowledged the rights of accused all along, then why did 28 of the signatories write independent statements, why did they need to pen a second letter, and why did thousands of victims feel silenced by the letter?

They took seven paragraphs to assert that they were right all along, to show that the tweets hurt them, and they took three paragraphs to acknowledge the hurt they inflicted on victims, to acknowledge the consistently absent justice that victims receive. 

The second letter did not dismantle the misogyny, victim blaming, and patriarchal violence that the first letter created. The second letter did little to repair the hurt of the first letter, the second letter was little more than a conscience-clearer for the CanLit elite. 

The second letter can be a stepping stone to a third letter. A third letter that should see that the first two letters are deleted. The third letter should see even distribution of the importance of fair trials for both the accused and the accuser.

Megan Linton is a University of Winnipeg student, avid reader and women’s rights activist.

Published in Volume 71, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 9, 2017)

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