Defamation of Character

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By: Emma Hasaralejko

These days in the era of the #metoo movement, with a wave of women coming forward with allegations of harassment and sexual assault, it is now expected that their cases will be dealt with, or at least given they attention they deserve. However, this new stance on how we approach accusations of sexual assault has not been without its critics. These critics claim that for every woman that comes forward with a valid case, there will be one who comes forward with a lie trying to take advantage of the system. This notion is especially prevalent in men accused, who have turned to obfuscating facts and assassinating the character of their accusers to avoid having to face the consequences of their actions.

Steven Galloway, former chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia is taking this a step further by suing a former student who accused him of sexual assault, and a dozen other people who “recklessly spread the accusation” both publicly and online, for defamation of character. Galloway claims he suffered devastating blows to both his personal and professional life (having been terminated from the University of British Columbia among other institutions) over what he states are false accusations. He argues that though both he and the student in question were married (making the affair adulterous), it was not non-consensual and that the accusations of assault only came forward once the affair came to light and the woman wished to preserve her own reputation.

However, if the issue was one solely concerning a professor taking advantage of the power imbalance inherent in a school setting, and the questionable actions taken by the University of British Columbia to address it, it is unlikely that it would have become a story as sensational as it did. This can instead be largely attributed to Galloway’s clout as an author, and connection to other notable names in Canadian literature. The questionable responses of Galloway’s friends and colleagues within that circuit is what ensured that the controversy would remain for some time. The most widely publicized form of this was the open letter from Canadian authors titled “An Open Letter To UBC: Steven Galloway’s Right To Due Process”. Spearheaded by Joseph Boyden and co signed by the likes of Margaret Atwood, comes across more as an attempt to protect one of their own than a nuanced, or even particularly sympathetic, take on the larger situation, not even making note of the complainants, or their right to due process.

Though addressed in April of 2016 by the Boyd report, which found that though the claims of rape, sexual, and physical assault were unsubstantiated, Galloway had carried on an inappropriate affair with a student. The response of notable Canadian authors ensured that the issue remained in the public eye, and sparked a nationwide discussion concerning campus sexual assault and how it should be addressed.

The events described above fall into the common pattern of what happens when influential men are held accountable for their behaviour. From Galloway to the recent Kavanaugh vs. Dr. Ford case, when a woman wishes to come forward, she must become the David to the man’s Goliath, taking on a system that seems more interested in preserving the reputation of those accused than taking her seriously, or at her word. Galloway’s actions stand at the edge of a slippery slope, whereby he could set a precedent for what is considered acceptable following accusations of sexual misconduct, making the gamble of coming forward all the more threatening to those sizing up a system that already seems set to make them fail. Though it is clear that steps have been taken in recent years towards a more reasonable approach to addressing cases of misconduct, that a man can sue someone for accusing him of sexual assault shows that there is still a long way to go.

This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/news/defamation-character/.