CWILA is a volunteer-run organization, with the mandate of tracking statistics on gender representation in reviewing, bringing relevant issues of gender, race, class, and sexuality into our national literary conversation, and creating a network supportive of the active careers of woman identified and trans writers, academics, critics, publishers, and editors. Since its inception, CWILA has tried to mobilize spaces for women and trans people working in the field of Canadian literary culture to be seen, celebrated, and supported. However, we are not above or outside of the culture that we critique and seek to challenge.
The current CWILA board has been watching as additional accusations of sexual assault and a culture of toxic masculinity within the CanLit community are made public. As a board, we are distressed to hear of these accusations, and we are continuing to reflect on what CWILA can do to help stop these pervasive problems.
In light of the recent disclosures on Twitter, CWILA believes it is important to acknowledge the ways in which our organization has contributed to a culture which has shielded predatory behaviour from scrutiny in our literary community. First, it is important to state that the email excerpt being circulated about CWILA was not written by CWILA. Specifically, we wish to address the public criticism that CWILA was made aware of allegations of sexual assault against Jon Paul Fiorentino in 2013 but did not take steps to distance ourselves from him at that time. Even more troubling, is the allegation that we did not believe his accuser.
At the time that this information was first brought to CWILA, it came to the board’s attention through a third party and without any direct information from a complainant or confirmation of the complainant’s identity. Given the limited time, resources and expertise of CWILA, the organization did not (and could not) conduct an “investigation.” Moreover, as a literary group, we have no place conducting an “investigation.” At that time, the issue was addressed to the satisfaction of the CWILA board and the third party, without any conclusions being made as to the veracity of the complaint against Mr. Fiorentino. Without the permission of the individual complainants to disclose their stories, we have kept them private.
In the months and years that have passed since that time, complainants have made their accusations against Mr. Fiorentino publicly known through first person accounts of their experiences. In response, CWILA has made efforts to remove all content featuring Mr. Fiorentino from its website and to cease any association with him. We support these individuals in their pursuit of a resolution of these very serious allegations.
As members of the Canadian literary community, the people who make up CWILA are not strangers to the persistent harassment and threats faced by those who challenge the toxicities in our culture. We try to act carefully and in pursuit of positive change. Our actions are often punctuated by our own fear, anger, and worry that we will, with best intentions, still get it wrong. However, we are committed to doing better and to improving our ability to navigate the disclosure of allegations of sexual violence or harassment responsibly and without causing harm.