Attorney for paleontology student accused of sexual misconduct in Canada threatens reporter with litigation

Aaron van der Reest/CBC
Last month, a group of colleagues previously associated with the University of Alberta (UA) in Canada began contacting me with allegations of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct by a former paleontology student there, Aaron van der Reest. They had heard about my #MeToo reporting in a number of scientific fields, and my reputation for pursuing investigations that had led to severe consequences for abusers. They asked my help in exposing a situation they told me had gone on for a number of years and that was shrouded in secrecy.

They were particularly concerned that van der Reest had graduated from UA and was now working on a PhD at the University of Saskatchewan. According to reliable sources, UA had conducted an investigation of the allegations, but the university never informed anyone of the results. On the face of things, it seemed possible that this was yet another example of the kind of institutional failure that has led to so many abusers being passed from one institution to another. I began to look into it.

While at UA, van der Reest worked closely with the famous paleontologist and dinosaur maven Philip Currie, as well as with his paleobotanist colleague and wife, Eva Koppelhus. Currie was kind enough to provide an on the record interview about his knowledge of events, and several other victims and witnesses talked to me as well for my reporting. (The university, in response to a public records act request, declined to either confirm or deny that an investigation of van der Reest's conduct had taken place.)

Several days ago I felt the reporting was advanced enough to ask van der Reest to respond to the allegations. Instead, I have received the following "cease and desist" letter from his attorney. As readers here know, I have received many such letters in my career as a #MeToo reporter, and I am even now being sued for $18 million for alleged defamation of University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin. 

[Update: The Kurin v. Balter case has now been settled with an agreement between the parties]

It is not in the nature of journalism or journalists to give in to threats, but to continue, in good faith and with careful attention to detail, to search for the truth when such allegations are made. As always, my reporting does not rely on rumors nor second-hand information.

Abusers who run to attorneys and think that "cease and desist" letters will intimidate reporters, and their sources, into silence about habitual misconduct forget that there are two sides in a lawsuit. A lot of facts come out in legal discovery--no matter what country the lawsuit takes place in. Abusers fear the truth, but an increasing number of people, including survivors, do not.

I will have more to say about this case as my reporting continues.

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Anonymous said…
Van der Reest wants to be infamous and unemployable like Danielle Kurin. Look at Danielle, standing all alone,not a single colleague supporting her publicly, and hopefully she will be arrested soon by FBI for threatening Michael.