I’ve written this post 1000 times. I think I can finally publish it. I’m putting it here because it’s what writers do: new portals to compensate for traditional sinking ones. I originally designed it as a Twitter essay but Twitter is a nightmare for hit and run vitriol; conversations that end unremarkably once the person on the other end tires of your reasoning; and the Brain Dead Megaphone, which is how George Saunders described the modern crisis by which the loudest person has their point heard above all others. I’m also posting the Bikini Kill song because it’s a great song, but also because it screams the way my writing has been screaming over the past week after all that has gone on in the Canadian writing community. I’ve toned down my emotions to post this piece. But I’m angry at everything, at a lot. Anger is ok until it’s not. Here, though, some reflection, and some ideas. 

1. This might take a second, bear with me. Thank you to KF for her help.

2. This is my letter to the victims, all victims.

3. It goes like this:

4. I’m sorry.

5. I’m sorry that people were hurt, damaged. Bad shit happened. Women writers were victimized. It’s been terrible.

6. Anyone who has even been assaulted asked themselves about why these writers were ignoring them. It’s a fair question. Why did we?

7. People rallied around the victims. Swords were drawn. Things got savage, bloody, personal. There are some people I can’t ever look at the same way again. Friends who called me out publicly. “Friends”. 

8. It started with Steven Galloway, then UBC, then came the letter. Victims– and their right to due process– were left out.

9. The letter was written by Joseph Boyden; my friend. I signed it.

10. Joseph: who has worked constantly to bring light to Truth and Rec and M&Murdered Indigenous women.

11. Joseph: crossing the country, tirelessly, raggedly. Going north– way north– fighting against injustice and misogyny 

12. Then Atwood spoke.

13. She suggested transparency. Fairness. But she angered a lot of people.

14. People called her insensitive. My friend said she had a “tin ear.” She pointed back to the letter.

15. There were 88 writers. Many were called-out: cold-hearted, rotten. I was called a rape apologist. Am I?

16. People said I was part of the elite, the Literati. I’d never been called that before.

17. In the end, 88 writers ignored the struggles of victims. This was not the intention. I’m sorry this ever happened.

18. I’m also sorry that men destroy women’s lives through domestic and institutional violence. This must be stopped. It must.

19. We need to look at ways in which we are all complicit. We need to think harder about this.

20. The letter didn’t help, but neither did UBC.

21. They fucked up. 

22. Fuck them. Fuck hiding. Fuck secrecy. 

23. No one is better for this. We, as writers, aren’t better. People have been hurt.

24. Go and read a Canadian writer’s twitter feed.

25. Sit in your soft chair, UBC, and read:

26. Art vs art, artist vs artist, man vs woman, queer vs str8, old vs new, young vs old

27. You’ve divided us.

28. You’ve divided us IN CANADA: small, close, breathing down each other’s necks.

29. We try to get along, mostly.

30. There’s not much here for us, but we try. We really do.

31. There are some demons and some assholes and some fuckwads, but we try. There’s little money and less praise.

32. Some people mock us; society asks when we’re going to get a real job. Still, we wrench out whatever we have to give.

33. We’re thin, and the work is hard.

34. But we try. And now we’re at each others throats. 

35. Someone wrote to tell me: I am never reading another book by a Canadian writer. Canada vs Canada. In Canada.

36. Canadian writers assailing Canadian literature. Tearing it apart. Fuck you, UBC. You helped no one.

37. You caused the letter and the letter caused this. It should have said: let’s destroy misongyny. DESTROY. IT.

38. But let’s get along. Let’s try.

39. Let’s tell whatever powers run institutional literature and writing: Fuck this. No more. Never again.

40. Find out what happened. Get to it. Finish it. Then let’s repair it, if that’s possible.

41. In most instances, women are ridiculed, men walk free. But maybe not here. We’ll never know.

42. Writers in Canada rely on universities, their programs. They’re a fatter crumb. They’re usually good places.

43. The apparatus has to be set in place so that women and all students can feel safe. Teachers have to know that, too.

44. Safety, love, respect.

45. I can hate your book, you can hate mine. We can sit at opposite ends of this godforsaken lifeboat.

46. But in these times– in our times– and probably in coming times…

47. There will be far more nefarious and evil forces wanting to tear us apart, push us under. Muffle us. Mute us. All of us.

48. It’s coming. We’ve seen it happen elsewhere.

49. Let’s not let them do it to us.

50. But let’s not do it to each other, either.

51. That’s my letter, m*therfucker.


  1. UBC screwed up. Royally. Screwed up for everyone involved in this investigation. But that you blame UBC for your decision to sign a poorly worded letter is truly odd. You blame UBC for dividing Canadians. For the reason someone said they wouldn’t read your work anymore.

    No. That’s not what happened. You signed a poorly written letter and people decided they didn’t respect you for taking that action. Don’t pawn off the responsibility of your own decisions onto someone else. Do you not have free will? The letter didn’t help you say, in your brief way to acknowledge the wrongdoing there, but quick now look over here, at this object, at the evil that is UBC. THEY are the ones to blame for the writing of a badly written and ill conceived and conveniently timed letter. Evidently.

    I don’t get it. I’m actually rather empathetic to the signatories of this letter. I really am. Sometimes a person signs something with all good intentions not really reading the other ways in which is might be taken. Truly not seeing the other side of it. I believe it is possible to sincerely make that mistake, unlike some who think you all very much knew what you were doing. So I’m one of the ones actually on your side. But what I simply cannot understand, what no one has yet been able to explain to me, is what is so difficult, once the obvious has been pointed out to you, to apologise, retract one’s signature, OR rewrite the letter? What’s with the doubling down? What’s with the “it’s UBC’s fault that we wrote a badly phrased letter”? What’s with the constant and consistent “that’s not what we meant can’t we talk about what we meant???” (especially coming from writers who KNOW the power words have)?

    What is with the not doing the effective thing? Yes, obviously all you guys want to do is talk about due process for everyone involved but by virtue of YOUR OWN WORDS you have changed the conversation. Want to change it back? Show some humility, admit that sometimes even the best writers need editors, and change the letter. Admit fault. Don’t want to distract from the actual issue at hand? Stop being so stubborn.

    Change the letter. Take it down. Apologise. Rewrite it.

    Stop. Blaming. Others.

    UBC did something wrong. Something wrong to so many people.

    What UBC didn’t do was make you write/sign this letter. You are to blame for that. You alone.


      1. I didn’t miss it. I just didn’t believe it. When someone apologises what I look for is then action. I look for what happens next. You apologised. You acknowledge what you did wrong (which is actually incredibly important and I give you credit for it). But then you don’t say you’re going to do anything differently. You instead turn this entire conversation around and away from your own culpability and make everything about UBC. You actually say that UBC caused the letter. So you’re sorry but it really isn’t your fault because UBC made you sign a badly written letter. And then you go on about how we should all just love each other and fight against UBC. In other words, you completely ignore the conversation others are trying to have with you about the effect of the letter and instead make your own list of “demands” of what everyone ought to be doing.

        But your response says even more than your initial post. You have ignored all my questions in order to push your own personal narrative about me. You have not given me the respect to even respond to me in a grammatically correct fashion or with any complexity or depth. I took time to write to you. I put thought into my post. I tried to demonstrate my empathy for your situation. I asked real questions and wanted real answers. Yes I made requests (but call them demands if it helps your rhetorical argument). I made them I thought to try to actually HELP you. That you lash out back at me, telling me I am somehow a model for what the problem is with this ongoing debate, is not productive. That you took probably three seconds to respond isn’t either.

        I see now I was foolish to respond. And I am starting to feel foolish for my ongoing defence of the signatories of this letter. I am getting into trouble in my own world for daring to have empathy for you guys. And here you go, proving them right and me wrong.

        I am very disappointed in this response. I expected better. I feel I deserved better.


      2. Hmm . . . there isn’t a reply button under your most recent response so I’m writing it here. Hopefully it makes sense. We shall see . . . 🙂

        Writing this post is an action absolutely. But it is not an action that demonstrates a sincere apology was made. An apology means you admit culpability: You did something wrong, you acknowledge it, you are sorry for it, now you are going to change your behaviour. You have not changed your behaviour. You have not attempted to make those hurting hurt less. Instead you are blaming them for not paying attention to the “right” thing through this post, through this action of yours. If you were sincerely sorry you would listen to what the people hurting want from you to make them hurt less.

        I don’t think you’re sorry. I think you are sad that people are hurting. I think you don’t like people being upset with you. But I don’t think you are sorry for signing the letter. And that’s my point.

        As for your second non-apology to me (apologies that are followed by a but or an if are not apologies fyi), maybe you should consider writing more respectfully online as opposed to using the medium of “online” as an excuse to write poorly and disrespectfully. It’s fascinating to me. You’re a writer. And yet twice now you have not seemed to understand the power words have. Once with the words in the letter itself. And now here, where you claim obviously one ought not be offended by your language because this is how you write online. Why is it as a writer you want to divorce the meaning of your words from your intentions so completely? Do you not want to try to express yourself in a way that is clear to your readers? That communicates effectively?


      1. The problem with the letter is that it is one sided. It only represents SG, not the complainants (yes yes, there’s one line about them, but we all know that the general message of it reads as if it is only supporting him. The fact that it is titled with his name on it even helps push that point further).

        That is why people are hurt.

        People aren’t hurt that you guys want an investigation into UBC. In fact many of the people hurt by the letter have been actively pursuing such an investigation into UBC for YEARS now. Way before you ever signed the letter.

        Your open letter in and of itself is what has hurt people. And that letter is your (everyone your, not you personally your) fault. Not UBC’s. You chose to frame a letter in such a way that it ignored the complainants. People got upset about that. Instead of just going, “Oh shoot, you’re right, we wrote this badly, let’s change it” you instead decided to double down and ignore that part of the argument. Steamrolling right over it in favour of “But UBC is bad!”

        No one, not one I don’t think, person who is upset with the open letter disagrees with the premise that UBC needs to reform its processes. I think there has never been a group in more consensus in fact. The issue is the fact that your letter you chose to sign and refuse to rewrite only talks about SG. And THAT isn’t UBC’s fault.

        Yes, technically the letter wouldn’t exist if UBC was awesome. But the actual issue that hurt people, that is to say the issue of one sidedness in the letter, THAT wouldn’t have been an issue if you guys had written the letter WELL.

        You wrote a bad letter. THAT’s the issue. Rewrite it. For god’s sake, why is it so hard to admit it wasn’t well written? Is this just an author ego thing?


    1. “hey susan–in this post, i admit the letter is flawed and i apologize for having hurt any victims.
      not enough?”

      I explained above in a comment from last week why for me, personally, no it isn’t.


      1. you attacking my ego doesn’t nothing to support your argument. if that’s how you want this conversation to continue i will block all correspondence. if you want to continue without such attacks, by all means explain your issue with: “hey susan–in this post, i admit the letter is flawed and i apologize for having hurt any victims.
        not enough?”


  2. Dave: thank you for your courage, your honesty, your feeling, and what I see as a sincere effort to empathize with everyone involved.

    One issue that’s been little recognized is how the nature of the underlying process has contributed to the perception that the complainants don’t have a voice. It’s true: because – as UBC itself pointed out in one of its statements – this is an employment issue, specifically a union, collective-agreement based employment issue. That’s because the action taken by UBC was an employment action – the firing of SG. That drives everything. Those processes are normally private – there is no public access to them. And the legal issue at stake is whether or not there was just cause for termination: the process itself is focused on employer and employee, not those who suffer or claim to have suffered some form of mistreatment. Right or wrong, that’s how it is – though UBC even managed to screw up the private nature of the process up when it made the initial public statement strongly implying SG was a danger to students. So everyone got the worst of both worlds.

    To me, one of the great ironies to the opposition to the open letter is that the call for an inquiry actually may give the complainants a much greater voice than they will get in the collective agreement-based arbitration process, in which they will only be seen as third parties. The good thing about an inquiry is that the terms of reference can be anything – that is, anything the institution is prepared to let them be. So the inquiry is, in my opinion anyway, actually the best chance for a full and open exploration of what really happened here.

    Hang in there – integrity is recognized for what it is. Not by all, but by many.


  3. If Steven Galloway, the CHAIR of an academic department at UBC, could’ve just kept his dick in his pants and his out-of-control ego in check, none of this would have happened.

    Though it’s a professional embarrassment for the chair of a department to be banging students, the actual issue is not the affairs with students, but, in fact, the sexual assault/harassment, which he admitted to on two voicemail messages to one of his victims. I’ve read everything on the issue and am still left wondering why anyone is defending this guy? Is he some kind of master of manipulation?

    I just wish the complainant would file a complaint with the police and turn this into a criminal matter…then we could all be done with it.


      1. No, in BC it’s not the cops – it’s Crown counsel (it is the cops in some provinces, though).

        The Crown has what it calls a “charge approval” standard – they have to look at the evidence and decide whether or not it adds up to a reasonable prospect of conviction at trial. If it doesn’t, the charges won’t be approved.

        Two things to keep in mind: (1) there are cases of sexual assault that do make it to trial and do result in convictions – not as many as ought to, but it’s not nothing, either; and (2) sexual assault IS a very hard charge to prove to a criminal or even a civil standard if there’s no physical or other corroborative evidence. Basically you have to decide which of two people is telling the truth, and if both tell convincing and credible stories, that’s actually not an easy thing to do.

        Also, it’s a mistake to say that SG “admitted” sexual assault. People have to remember that there is inappropriate behaviour that is not sexual assault. Apologizing to someone on the phone is not an admission of sexual assault. Facts matter, and too many people are overly happy to bend, twist and ignore them if it suits their personal narrative.


Leave a Reply to Susan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s