Filmmaker says Canada's largest book publisher released memoir depicting her sexual assault as consensual

A Penguin Random House Canada sign is seen outside its head office in Toronto on Oct. 28, 2020. A Toronto woman named Zoe Charlotte Greenberg alleged in a Dec. 6 post that the company, which is the country's largest book publisher, had knowingly published a memoir that depicted her sexual assault as consensual. (JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock - image credit)
A Penguin Random House Canada sign is seen outside its head office in Toronto on Oct. 28, 2020. A Toronto woman named Zoe Charlotte Greenberg alleged in a Dec. 6 post that the company, which is the country's largest book publisher, had knowingly published a memoir that depicted her sexual assault as consensual. (JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock - image credit)

A filmmaker has accused Canadian writer Leah McLaren of sexual assault, saying that Penguin Random House Canada knowingly published a memoir by McLaren that depicts the alleged incident as consensual.

Zoe Charlotte Greenberg made the allegations in a Dec. 6 post published on Medium. She said that McLaren and a male peer assaulted her by a pool while she was drunk when she was 16 years old.

Greenberg wrote that McLaren reached out to her a few years ago to inform her that she'd written about the incident in a yet-to-published memoir. Greenberg wrote that she told McLaren in a follow-up call what she experienced that night by the pool, and that McLaren verbally acknowledged the sexual assault and its ensuing impact, and apologized.

Greenberg also wrote that McLaren promised her that she could "change whatever I wanted if I felt the need."

Greenberg said that, in pages of the manuscript sent by McLaren to her two years later, the incident in question was depicted as a threesome with a friend who had "tearfully lost her virginity."

In the published version, McLaren writes of a three-way sexual encounter with a friend named Joni and someone named Scott, after which Joni ends up in tears.

The memoir was published in July under the title Where You End and I Begin.

CBC News reached out to Greenberg for comment via direct message and did not receive a response.

McLaren denies assault allegations

McLaren, a writer who has contributed to the Toronto Star and wrote a column for The Globe & Mail, told CBC News in a statement that she stands by everything she wrote in the memoir.

"When Zoe raised concerns about the draft pages of my memoir I'd sent for her to review, I took the matter seriously. Over a series of emails, calls and Zoom meetings, Zoe talked to me about her concerns. I considered all of them. Based on these conversations, my editors and I made amendments that we felt were appropriate," she said.

McLaren denied the allegations of sexual assault.

"I did not, as an adolescent child, assault my older 16-year-old best friend at a pool party. Nor did I assist in her assault. I stand by everything I wrote."

Penguin Random House Canada responds

Greenberg's post makes additional allegations about Penguin Random House's treatment of her after she approached the publishing house with her concerns about McLaren's memoir.

A lawyer for Greenberg shared her allegations with Penguin Random House's legal counsel, asking that the excerpt be changed to reflect her experience or else be removed from the manuscript entirely.

The company responded by saying that McLaren "did not recall the specific act" outlined in the memoir, according to Greenberg's Medium post.

Random House Canada
Random House Canada

Greenberg says that her lawyer gave the company a transcription of the recorded conversation between her and McLaren.

After that correspondence she did not hear back from the publishing house, Greenberg said.

CBC News reached out to Penguin Random House Canada. A representative said that the company was "disturbed and concerned by the allegations made in Zoe Charlotte Greenberg's essay."

The representative also confirmed that its legal team had communicated with Greenberg's lawyer, but said it could not find any instances in which Greenberg's correspondence had gone unanswered.

The publishing house communicated to Greenberg's lawyer how McLaren intended to change the manuscript.

"During the editorial process, substantial changes were made to the passages by Leah McLaren in response to Zoe Charlotte Greenberg's requests. We are saddened to learn that, for Zoe Charlotte Greenberg, these changes did not adequately address her concerns," the representative wrote.

The company will be reflecting on its internal policies, the representative said.

Blurb from Canadian filmmaker removed

The memoir initially featured a testimonial blurb from Canadian filmmaker and writer Sarah Polley, which she has since pulled. Polley took to Twitter on Tuesday to address her involvement.

Zoe Greenberg/Twitter
Zoe Greenberg/Twitter

"I pulled my endorsement and spoke with the publisher about this months ago as soon as it came to my attention. Thank you," Polley wrote.

In another tweet, Greenberg confirmed that she had spoken with Polley and that the filmmaker's blurb would not be featured on future copies of the memoir.

Past incident

In October 2020, McLaren's mother, Cecily Ross, alleged that McLaren was writing a book that included Ross's childhood experience with sexual assault against Ross's wishes.

She wrote about the conflict in an essay called This Story Is Mine for the Literary Review of Canada.

"It took me the rest of our few days together to process the news that my daughter would be publishing a tell‑all about my experience and the impact it has had on hers," Ross wrote.

Earlier this year, McLaren wrote a story for the Toronto Star entitled "Why my mother's abuse story is my story too," defending her decision to write about her mother's experience.

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.