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Ex-UBC prof’s defamation trial to proceed after appeals dismissed

Steven Galloway can go ahead with a lawsuit against an ex-student and others for allegedly ruining his reputation and career by tweeting and posting he had assaulted and sexually assaulted a student who can’t be named.

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Writer and former University of B.C. professor Steven Galloway, who was fired amid allegations he sexually and physically assaulted a student, has won and partially won a series of appeals launched by those he is suing for defamation.

The B.C. Court of Appeal on Wednesday released its pretrial ruling on a number of appeals and cross appeals resulting from a 2021 pretrial judgment in a lower court. It allows Galloway to go ahead with a lawsuit suing his alleged victim and other defendants in which he maintains they defamed him on social media and ruined his reputation and career.

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The reasons for judgment, signed by all three appeal judges, Justice Elizabeth Bennett, Justice Anne MacKenzie and Justice Peter Voith, dismissed the appeals of the alleged victim, who can only be identified as A.B. because of a publication ban, and seven others who worked at UBC.

Galloway had also appealed or cross-appealed parts of the 2021 judgment and was successful in appealing some aspects in five out of eight parts. That included the Appeal Court reversing a decision by the Supreme Court that ruled comments A.B. made in 2015, when she “verbally published defamatory statements” to other defendants, were dismissed from the lawsuit because too much time had passed when she made the comments and the filing of Galloway’s suit.

In a statement released on Wednesday through his lawyer, Galloway said: “I’m relieved and thankful that this matter will be moving to trial … The allegations made against me, and repeated as truth by the defendants in this case, are false.”

A.B.’s lawyer, David Wotherspoon, in an email called the judgment “unfortunate.”

It “leaves us extremely concerned about the impact on survivors of sexual violence and in particular for students, staff and faculty of universities and colleges who may feel less safe about coming forward with concerns,” he said.

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He said he hasn’t read the judgment through and will decide on next steps after speaking with A.B.

The defendants applied to have the lawsuit dismissed under the Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA), aimed at protecting people from suits brought merely to silence or punish a critic and referred to as anti-SLAPP, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, laws.

Galloway’s lawyer, Dan Burnett, said in an email that in the judgment the Appeal Court “laments that anti-SLAPP laws have been used to engage in protracted and expensive applications, contrary to the aspirations behind the legislation, which is to avoid delay and expense. The action was filed over five years ago and has been held up far too long in this anti-SLAPP process.”

As the lower court justice did, the Appeal Court justices emphasized that “this court is not prejudging the ultimate merits of Mr. Galloway’s claim or the defences that have been raised” as that will be determined at trial.

The appeal judgment was to determine without doing a “deep dive” in evidence whether the defendants’ comments could be considered to be in the “strong public interest” and therefore allowed under the PPPA.

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Galloway, who is in his mid-40s, was removed from his position as a tenured professor and the chair of the creative writing program at UBC in 2015 after what were publicly described as “serious allegations” were levelled against him.

A report by a retired judge concluded Galloway had had a consensual affair with A.B., but Galloway was fired in 2016 due to an “irreparable breach of trust.”

Galloway says that since then he has not had any further books published and alleges that because of the defamatory statements, he is unable to write and is unpublishable.

UBC later paid Galloway $167,000 in damages after an arbitrator found that certain communications by the university violated his privacy and damaged his reputation. He got a further $60,000 in supplemental damages for the continued breach of his privacy.

Galloway filed his defamation lawsuit in 2018 and A.B. and a dozen other defendants responded by filing the anti-SLAPP application.

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