VANCOUVER - Margaret Atwood says the University of British Columbia's investigation of fellow author Steven Galloway was flawed and failed both sides, comparing it to the Salem witchcraft trials.
Galloway was fired from his position as creative writing chairman in June after a months-long probe into what the university would only describe as "serious allegations."
Atwood, who has won the prestigious Man Booker Prize, faced a social media backlash this week after she joined dozens of prominent authors in signing an open letter calling for an independent inquiry into the university's handling of the case.
She defended her decision on Thursday, writing in an emailed statement that the model of the witchcraft trials, which took place in colonial Massachusetts in the late 1600s, is not a good one.
"Those accused would almost certainly be found guilty because of the way the rules of evidence were set up, and if you objected to the proceedings you would be accused yourself," she wrote.
"Obviously the university was trying to shield students from something — we are still not clear as to what, exactly, and if it's a matter of rape then it should be a matter of jail — but their methods appear to have resulted in a big foggy mess."
The university has said that it reached its decision after a "thorough, deliberative process" and that it is legally barred from disclosing the allegations against Galloway without his consent.
Galloway has not spoken publicly about the allegations and hasn't responded to several requests for comment including on Thursday. The open letter signed by his supporters said he has been prevented from speaking publicly while the faculty association grieves his firing.
But a police report filed in Ohio provides some insight into what he was being accused of.
Galloway was there to speak with students at Wright State University on Nov. 16, 2015, the day he was suspended, when, the report says, his co-workers in Canada called police to report the author was having suicidal thoughts.`
The officer who responded filed a report saying Galloway told him that he had received an email from his employer putting him on notice that he is at the centre of a sexual assault investigation between him and one of his students.
"He explained that he has never felt this low in his life, and is very upset at these false allegations as they are likely to lead to him losing his job," the officer wrote.
The report says Galloway indicated he would never actually kill himself and the officer took him to hospital for a mental-health evaluation.
The Canadian Press has spoken with five people who say they filed complaints based on behaviour they witnessed or experienced. They say the allegations included sexual harassment, bullying, threats and one incident where Galloway is alleged to have slapped a student.
The faculty association has said all but one of the allegations, including the most serious, was not substantiated by the university's investigation.
Several female writers have accused Atwood on Twitter of silencing and intimidating women who might come forward in the future with allegations against powerful men.
In her statement, Atwood questioned whether it is an endorsement of "rape culture" or a silencing of anyone to want the university to take a hard look at how it handled the case. She references Steven Truscott, who was wrongfully convicted as a teenager for the rape and murder of a classmate in 1959.
"To take the position that the members of a group called 'women' are always right and never lie — demonstrably not true — and that members of a group called "accused men" are always guilty — (Steven) Truscott, anyone? — would do a great disservice to accusing women and abuse survivors, since it discredits any accusations immediately," she wrote.
Atwood asks several questions of the university, including: "Does it need a clear code of conduct that everyone teaching there should adhere to? (Don't socialize and drink with students, for beginners? No bets that involve slapping?)"
But Andrea Bennett, a student who says she saw Galloway slap her friend at a bar, said it was not the result of a bet. She said her friend explained that it came about because she'd badmouthed Galloway's writing, and he jokingly told her he would slap her as soon as she graduated.
"The slap was shocking, it was loud, it did not come across as a joke to me, and I saw an aspect of Galloway's personality I hadn't seen before," Bennett said in an email.
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.