Less than a month after a writer named in a Google spreadsheet of sexual allegations sued the woman who created the “Shitty Media Men” list, which prompted supporters to crowdfund more than $100,000 for the defendant, there’s a parallel legal battle happening in Canada.
Steven Galloway, Canadian author and former chair of the University of British Columbia’s creative writing program, is suing his sexual assault accuser and more than 20 others who allegedly shared the accusations on social media. And, just a few days later, a legal defence fund has raised more than $55,000 for the defendants.
Galloway’s lawsuit, which was filed in BC’s Supreme Court last week, claims he suffered “devastating” blows to his career and personal life because of “false accusations of rape, sexual assault and physical assault” made by a former student. The lawsuit doesn’t give a dollar figure but seeks damages as well as an injunction preventing the people named in his lawsuit from publishing similar allegations in future.
Until this week the former student was widely known only as “main complainant” or “MC,” but has since been named in national media. The civil claim describes MC as older than Galloway, with past experience as a professor. “She and the plaintiff had a consensual romantic affair that lasted over two years,” reads the lawsuit. “Both of them were married and the affair was adulterous.”
The other defendants—accused of “recklessly repeating” MC’s accusations publicly and on the internet—include UBC faculty, creative writing classmates, a former editor of a student magazine, a New York curator who exhibited MC’s art, campus assault activists, and Canlit colleagues.
The suit claims MC first “verbally published” her rape accusation to two professors and a former student on November 12, 2015. She then “encouraged” her colleagues to “find others who would support and repeat” her defamatory claim, according to the suit.
UBC responded to the allegations by suspending Galloway with pay and appointing a retired judge to oversee a months-long investigation. Former BC Supreme Court Justice Mary Ellen Boyd interviewed students and faculty on everything from inappropriate classroom conversation to harassment to serious allegations of sexual assault.
In April 2016 Boyd ultimately found that claims of rape, sexual assault, and physical assault were unsubstantiated, but that Galloway did carry on an inappropriate relationship with a student. Galloway was fired for “irreparable breach of trust,” then later received nearly $200,000 in damages from the university for harms to his reputation.
The scandal did not end with the Boyd report as major figures in Canadian literature including Margaret Atwood later published an open letter calling out UBC for mishandling the case. The story prompted national debate on campus assault reporting, abuse of power, and the perceived effort to silence and undermine Galloway’s accusers.
Through her lawyer MC weighed in on the fallout in late 2016, countering the claim that Galloway was being torn to shreds for a consensual relationship with a student. "The public should be clear, that MC's report to UBC was not about a 'consensual affair,'" reads part of the statement. "The allegations that were investigated in this case include that Mr. Galloway sexually harassed and sexually assaulted MC."
In summer 2018, MC’s first solo art exhibition took on the issue of sexual assault head-on with massive black wall hangings in the style of heavily redacted documents. Though the works do not name Galloway or the school, his suit alleges it contained false and defamatory statements.
Galloway’s lawsuit alleges all of the defendants continued to publicly share their belief of MC’s story after the Boyd report ruled out the most serious allegations. Many of them responded to media reports and Twitter chatter with their opinions and reactions—also described as “false and defamatory words” by Galloway’s lawyers.
The details of the Boyd report remain sealed—even complainants have only seen redacted copies—though that could change according to one lawyer who is not associated with the Galloway case.
“If the lawsuit goes ahead, the full investigative report into the incidents by Justice Mary Ellen Boyd will likely be filed in court and become public,” human rights lawyer Richard Warman wrote on his website. “This may affect people’s positions depending on what it says.”
The legal battle comes on the heels of an American defamation case against the creator of a controversial Google spreadsheet that collected anonymous sexual allegations against men working in media. Writer Stephen Elliott is now suing “Shitty Media Men” list maker Moira Donegan for $1.5 million.
Though the allegations are very different, the two Steves have a few things in common. They both penned op-eds in effort to clear their names in the last few months, and have inspired massive crowdfunding campaigns in support of the people they’re suing. On top of that they raise questions about what counts as free speech and fair comment in an atmosphere where victims of all kinds of sexual misconduct are encouraged to come forward and tell their stories.
“I donated to Moira Donegan's fundraiser,” Amanda Leduc, author and creator of the GoFundMe for Galloway’s defendants told VICE by phone. “I think as a woman it’s important to do what I can to support members of my community, and to see it come up in a Canadian context, it was like—oh, here we go again.”
More than 700 people have already made contributions to cover legal fees for the 25 people named in Galloway's suit. Leduc suggests more in-person fundraising projects are in the works to pay lawyers and “help to assure them that they aren't alone in this fight, and that there are many in the Canlit community who support them wholeheartedly.”
VICE reached out to defendants named in the lawsuit, but did not hear back by press time.
Follow Sarah on Twitter.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.