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PEN Canada releases statement on calls to take down UBC Accountable

PEN Canada and PEN International have released a statement expressing concern over ongoing calls to take down UBC Accountable, a website that sprang up in the wake of the university’s firing of Steven Galloway as chair of the Creative Writing Program following an investigation pertaining to an allegation of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviour. The website, which is critical of UBC’s handling of the situation, consists of an open letter and signatory statements of numerous authors – including Margaret Atwood, Susan Swan, and Yann Martel – in support Galloway’s “right to due process” and transparency from the university.

“Not all speech is accorded equal weight in the media and in other public arenas – speech by those without power and privilege has often been relegated to the margins. With this in mind, it is reasonable to assume that in cases such as this, perceived support of an accused by prominent Canadians can cause a chill and could deter victims of harassment and sexual violence from exercising their own right to freedom of expression,” reads the statement, which then continues: “At the same time, freedom of expression also includes the public’s right to access information on issues of general concern, and the freedom to debate these issues within the public sphere…. In the interest of freedom of expression, PEN believes the site should remain intact as a permanently accessible digital record of some of the public interest concerns in this case.”

While 11 of the authors who originally signed the open letter on UBC Accountable have since removed their names, poet and former UBC instructor Robert Bringhurst (who acknowledges he has never met Galloway or his accusers) added a signatory statement on Jan. 13, which ends: “The assertion that every accused deserves a fair hearing is radically different from the assertion that everyone or anyone accused of a crime is innocent. No one who thinks about the matter can fail to see that the one is a just principle, the other a preposterous distortion. But institutions cannot think, and some individuals are unwilling to. Those of us who are willing to think have to keep doing so – for their sake as well as our own.”

In addition to Bringhurst’s statement, U.S. author Laura Kipnis (Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus) has added her name to the signatories list.