Dispatch from the Front Lines: A rough week for Canada's competent-style Liberals
Guns! Dental care! Criminal sentences! Ukraine! And a very, very serious allegation against a reasonably prominent Canadian columnist.
Wow! Busy dispatch this week, folks. Let’s get you right into it.
If you prefer the podcast, find it here!
Your Line editors this week took note of a very serious allegation that has been made against Canadian author and columnist Leah McLaren. She has been accused of sexual assault, and the accusations also call into question the judgment and business practices of a major Canadian publisher. At this point, we lack the data to evaluate the veracity of the allegations, but as this tea has been simmering throughout Canadian literary and journalistic circles all week, we feel our Line readers ought to understand the story.
First, two necessary disclosures. McLaren, though not a personal friend or close colleague of either Line editor, is something of a contemporary of ours (she's a bit older and got into the game in an earlier era, but we do have many overlapping contacts). McLaren has spoken kindly of us, but we have no ties to McLaren beyond occasional polite chats. Further, the publisher in question, Penguin Random House Canada, is where Line editor Gerson will soon publish her forthcoming book. That said, PRH is a very large publishing house, and Gerson's editorial team is entirely separate from the one involved in this situation.
Okay. Here's what's happening.
Several months ago, McLaren published a memoir in which she describes her difficult relationship with her mother, which included the story of the latter's childhood sexual assault. McLaren's mother, Cecily Ross, did not consent to this and was none too pleased by its inclusion. Ross wrote her own essay about her displeasure with her story being told by another. If you have heard of McLaren's memoir, this is likely why. The controversy received some coverage.
McLaren's memoir contains discussions of her own early sexual experiences. One such example, where the names of the participants have been changed, depicts a three-way sexual encounter between a then-teenaged McLaren and two other teenagers, a male and a female.
This week, in an essay published on the blogging platform Medium, Zoe Charlotte Greenberg, of Toronto, described that same three-way encounter from another perspective — her own. She claims that she was the other female described by McLaren, under a pseudonym, in her memoir. Greenberg alleges that the encounter was not consensual, and that she was the victim of rape by a male she did not identify and the then-teenaged Leah McLaren. Greenberg, in her essay, further alleges that, in a private conversation of which she possesses a recording, McLaren confessed being "an active participant" in the rape and apologized.
Greenberg further claims that Penguin Random House representatives and her own legal counsel were in contact as part of the normal fact-checking process. This is how Greenberg described this in her essay:
My lawyer shared my allegations with their legal counsel, respectfully requesting that my sexual assault be depicted truthfully or be cut from publication. We thought it should be easy for them to cut me out entirely; I wasn’t central to the memoir, and she was only asking me to approve a short excerpt under ten pages. Penguin Random House’s general counsel responded that McLaren did “not recall the specific act” she had depicted as the loss of my virginity. My lawyer then provided a transcript of the conversation I’d recorded where McLaren acknowledged the sexual assault, apologised for what she’d done to me, and promised I could alter my depiction in the manuscript. At this point, Penguin Random House ceased their communication with me.
McLaren has responded in a post on her Substack, wherein she denies that she sexually assaulted Greenberg. That is available here.
Penguin Random House Canada has responded with a statement on Twitter, denying some of what Greenberg asserts, but conceding that there were communications, and that substantial edits were made. That is available here.
We reiterate that we do not know anything beyond what we have summarized above, cannot independently verify any of the claims, and have drawn no conclusions. Our only comments, at present, are this: