Statement - March 06, 2018
It is with great sadness that I write this statement. To be accused of treating anyone in such a disgraceful manner is something that I take very seriously. I have never used my cultural capital to elicit sexual relationships with one person, let alone multiple women. If I have ever caused anyone to feel disrespected by my words or my actions, I am truly sorry. Whether the “CanLit Janitors” are acting out of a genuine (albeit, in this case, misguided) attempt to protect and promote women, or if they are driven by a more personal sense of vendetta, the double-anonymity and vague nature of the accusations make them impossible to sensibly respond to. Beyond the personal damage to my own career and reputation, the aspect of these false allegations that I find most troubling is that my accusers appear to be taking advantage of an important movement (#MeToo) and using it for their own agenda, while also employing tactics that threaten the fundamental democratic principles of our society.
As for my reputation within the poetry community, some context is worth noting. Six years ago, following a breakup, I mailed several items back to an ex-girlfriend. The last item was her taxidermy chicken, which I packed in a box and wrapped in used target silhouettes—an inside joke inspired by our shared macabre sense of humour about gun culture. In retrospect, this was poor judgement on my part. Given our convivial communication at the time, it did not cross my mind that it could be perceived as anything other than an inside joke. However, the night the package arrived, the police came to my house and informed me that my ex had thought of the package as a death threat. I instantly apologized to her, and (after an investigation) neither my ex nor the Crown pressed charges. Soon afterwards, however, my ex posted a picture of only the targets on Facebook and stated that she was scared. Following this, a writer who did not even know me emailed a number of people at the university where I was working stating that I was a violent, dangerous offender. I received death threats and was likened to Pat Lowther’s husband. Later on, despite an apology and an attempted reconciliation initiated by my ex, I learned that she continued to speak disparagingly of me in public. After some emails back and forth, I said that if this continued I would file a defamation suit. Over the years, the community gossip from this event has taken on a life of its own (there was a restraining order, I had sent her a bullet-riddled chicken, etc.). All untrue, but not easy to refute without fanning the flames of the gossip mill and jeopardizing both my ex’s and my privacy. I never spoke about this publicly and I have always wished that I had.
Fast-forward to October, 2017. My fiancée received a message on one of her Instagram posts: “_slayyou commented: Do you have sleepless nights and anxiety because you’re a fake feminist supporting #jeramydodds a #narcissistic #misogynistic serial #abuser who will soon be named on #BuzzFeed Canada’s #Publishing industry #abuser list? I would probably be sleepless too. The voices of over a dozen women will no longer be silenced. Probably also why he has run scared from all social media. He can’t hide for long.” Other messages using similar hashtags were posted on the accounts of colleagues and friends. My fiancée, an academic working in feminist theory, was appalled. Since the beginning of our relationship, she has endured cyber-bullying and harassment. If these “feminists” actually thought I was an abuser, should they not have asked after her safety instead of attacking her?
On January 15, 2018, an anonymous group calling themselves the “CanLit Janitors” sent a letter to Coach House Books, allegedly written on behalf of other anonymous women, creating a layer of double anonymity. The letter asked that I be removed from the Coach House Poetry Board due to sexual misconduct and abuse of power. All of the allegations were unsubstantiated, and no accusation was formally made. Nobody has come forth – not one woman, let alone multiple women. The “CanLit Janitors” also contacted media outlets and stories appeared in BuzzFeed and The Globe and Mail. None of the women who were interviewed by The Globe and Mail or BuzzFeed made any concrete allegations against me, thereby undermining the legitimacy of the letter.
Allow me to set the record straight: I have never promised anyone professional opportunities in exchange for sexual relationships. It is true that I have dated a few women younger than I am. I have also dated women older than I am. All my relationships have been consensual and involved intelligent, independent women who were not my students. To assume that these relationships were abusive and manipulative based solely on age difference is insulting to consenting women. CanLit should not be attempting to police bedrooms.
I am also accused of “approaching women under the guise of soliciting them for Coach House in order to establish sexual relationships, then forbidding them from sending work to Coach House after those relationships ended.” This is absolutely untrue. It is insulting to Alana Wilcox and Susan Holbrook, the other two members of the editorial board at Coach House. It is also insulting to every writer I have worked with at the press, in that it casts doubt on their artistic merit. Fortunately, we keep good submission records. This document shows that the three poets I dated while at Coach House all submitted work to the press. Witnesses at the press will corroborate that in all of these cases I stepped aside and declared a conflict of interest while the evaluation of their manuscripts took place. Contrary to the allegation of impropriety, I always acted with utmost propriety.
These allegations are said to have taken place between two and six years ago, between the time of the chicken and targets (the same time I began working at Coach House) and my recent engagement. Like a number of men, I began to question my entitlement, my enculturated masculinity, and my cultural capital, in order to be sure that I was not blinded by privilege, long before #MeToo. In fact, my last collection of poetry critiqued toxic masculinity. While this doesn't make me immune to mistakes (it is a constant process, I assure you), it does mean that I have always been vigilant.
I have been on the poetry board at Coach House for six years. I’ve loved being an editor there and have worked with some phenomenal artists and human beings. I have worked hard to hone the craft of editing over the past decade and a half, and have had the privilege of working on every genre and aesthetic that I could find. During my six years at Coach House, I volunteered my time to foster and advance the careers of numerous emerging poets, consistently working with some authors for up to two years in order to develop their work. I did this because I believe in these emerging artists and because I love the work. No other publisher that I know of supplies the amount of editorial time that the Coach House Poetry Board once did. The “Janitors” have not made women in the Canadian poetry circle safer, nor have they improved career opportunities for female writers; they have instead thrown an erroneous shadow over a prestigious venue for writers and editors of Canadian poetry.
Since these tabloid accusations were published, the career that I have spent nearly two decades building has been shattered. I have lost everything from teaching positions and grants to residencies and reading tours. I have been pulled from anthologies, panels, and interviews. As a result, my physical and mental health have suffered greatly. I am aware that my plight is nothing compared to that of the many, many women who have suffered much greater harm at the hands of harassers and sexual predators. Yet, the simple fact remains: I am completely innocent of the allegations made against me.
To the CanLit Janitors: I implore you to do some soul-searching and fact checking. Using #MeToo as a way to propagate false accusations is irresponsible. It undermines real stories of women who have suffered and bravely stood up to demand justice. As a supporter of #MeToo and a feminist myself, I sincerely hope that the difficult issue of how to deal with false accusations will be resolved, so that the vast majority of cases can be given the solemnity and justice that they deserve. To maintain credibility, I strongly urge Coach House Books to hire an independent, third-party investigator to get to the truth of the matter. I am certain that following such an investigation, my name will be cleared. As a group of intellectuals, progressive thinkers and artists, I believe that we in the CanLit community can find the right balance between supporting our women and not being misled by false accusations.
To clarify issues raised in the recent Toronto Star article - March 23, 2018
● I did not implicate Robin Richardson in these ludicrous goings on, the CanLit Janitors did. The CanLit Janitors clearly state that their allegations are made on behalf of women I dated in the literary community over the past six years. It follows to reason (this is logic 101) that if you believe the allegations made by the CanLit Janitors, then you must believe that the people on whose behalf the Janitors claim to speak stand behind them.
● Robin Richardson has reached out to me multiple times after the chicken episode to apologize for her behaviour toward me and for giving the community the false impression that I was violent or dangerous. She stated that she was working on herself and trying to atone for her wrongdoings to others. Here is a quote from one such email: “Your name came up at the top of my harms list and I owe you a very wholehearted apology. I would very much like the opportunity to do this in person though I understand completely if you're not comfortable with that. An amends in person has a lot more magic to it. If you're interested and can gift me an hour of your time in the coming months I would be so grateful. Again, I understand if not. Just incase [sic] we don't end up seeing one another, I would like you [to] know that I am committed to handling your name and reputation with meticulous care from here on in. I do hope to hear back. This program has made my own past insanity clear and I feel grateful, if nothing else, to get a chance to clear that air, fess up to my own mess.”
● Robin Richardson has conveniently not referenced any of her previous emails or this apology in order to allow for the assassination of my character while using the support and pity of others to increase her own cultural capital and build her own career.
● To repeat part of my original statement: It was Robin Richardson’s taxidermy chicken I was RETURNING to her UPON HER REQUEST. It was not some random chicken I decided to send to her. She had named it Charlie. As for her gun culture denial: Robin often wore a gun pendant necklace and has posted photos of herself at a gun range. When I speak about our shared sense of humour about gun culture, I am also referring to films, mythologies etc. that we regularly referenced.
● As I have said, wrapping Charlie in target silhouettes was a mistake. Robin Richardson and I were in amiable contact before I sent the items and had spoken about meeting up in the future. The packaging was intended as a joke, not as a threat. Because I realize that intention and reception are never perfectly aligned (something that members of a literary community should understand very well), I apologized to Robin Richardson multiple times six years ago. My apology still stands. I want nothing but peace. However, I will not condone duplicitous behaviour (repeatedly apologizing to me privately, while publicly playing the victim and defaming me).
● I am not jumping to conclusions by suggesting that my exes are implicated in this mess. The CanLit Janitors have clearly stated that they are. Whether the CanLit Janitors are speaking on behalf of these women without their consent or if they are speaking with their consent is still not fully known. What I do know without a doubt is that I am 100% innocent of all the allegations being levied against me in their letter. For this reason, I have contacted my exes to ask them to confirm or deny the allegations to Coach House Books and the media. Anyone with a heart who can see how I am being targeted and stripped of everything I hold dear would have the decency to speak up and tell the truth.
● I realize that it can be very difficult for women who have actually been abused to come forward. It is also terrifying to lose everything, to be spoken about in malicious, vile ways by your peers, to be labelled as a sexual predator, yet not to be able to defend yourself because a group of gutless, lying vigilantes are cowardly hiding behind their anonymity.
● If the CanLit Janitors weren’t willing to back up their claims, they should never have made them. If the CanLit Janitors were not willing to speak to Coach House and the media, they should never have contacted them. I am pursuing this at great risk to my own health and safety and would not be doing so if I were not innocent of the hogwash the CanLit Janitors are spouting as if gospel.
● By publicly proliferating lies, the CanLit Janitors and the women they claim to represent have severely threatened a number of my freedoms—my ability to adopt a child, to publish my work, to live without fear and illness, and to gain future employment, being just a few. These are violations of my human rights. No lawless group of fanatics should be allowed to wield this type of punitive power. Yet somehow our “community” is allowing them to. Since this horrendous affair began, I have received many kind and thoughtful messages of support from members of the community who know that I am incapable of the vile acts outlined in the letter. However, not one person has come to my defense publicly. Why? Because the CanLit Janitors are taking advantage of a climate of fear in which public intellectuals are now afraid to speak their minds, lest they be next to be persecuted. Is this the culture/climate Canadian intellectuals want to uphold?
● I have given the CanLit Janitors and the women they claim to represent every chance to take responsibility. Nobody has come forward. Meanwhile, the institutions that run CanLit have stripped me of respect, my accolades, and my livelihood. Murderers and rapists have more rights than those anonymously accused of “misusing cultural capital.” I have not even been accused of anything criminal, yet I am being denied due process. The CanLit Janitors and the women they represent, however, have now committed the criminal acts of defamation and harassment (the latter against both myself and my fiancée—a woman they have never met and know nothing about, and who has never once in over in two years stooped to their level by responding to their trashy and vituperative cyberattacks, such as those that simultaneously call her “fat” and accuse her of being a “fake feminist”).
● I agree that CanLit needs a major reconfiguration. Hopefully this will also include a purging of the few fundamentalists who have created a McCarthyesque, lawless, fascist community that silences any opposition through online harassment, bullying, and medieval mob attacks, while discrediting those women who have endured actual abuse and bravely come forward to confront their accusers. I hope that we can build a more inclusive CanLit community populated with gracious human beings who employ critical thinking and rise above the all-too-easy, binaristic thinking which sacrifices one group’s rights for another’s. Yes, the current justice system regularly fails women who have been abused. This needs to change. Now. Let’s put our collective efforts into doing just that. This vigilante whisper campaign, however, is not a viable solution for a democracy. The perpetrators of this regime are naïve if they think that such a system will protect women and other minorities. Anyone with any knowledge of history (be it of Communism, the McCarthy era, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, etc.) will immediately see the dangers of bypassing the justice system altogether.
● The CanLit Janitors have had two months to prove their allegations. It is time to end this. I have recently engaged an investigation firm and legal counsel. I will pursue these false allegations to their bitter end and expose the cowardly liars who have falsely accused me. I will not back down. I will not stop until there is a reckoning.