[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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The Canadian Region of SFWA

Copyright © 1992-1995 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

What follows is a collection of articles about the founding and early history of the Canadian Region of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Robert J. Sawyer spearheaded the creation of this, the first new region in SFWA's history, and he served as the first ever Canadian Regional Director from 1992 to 1995.

The Original Proposal | SFWA Unanimously Approves Canadian Region | A Vote for Canada? | A Vote for Canada! | Outgoing Canadian Regional Director's Report All 11 issues of Alouette: The Newsletter of the Canadian Region of SFWA

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The Original Proposal

Robert J. Sawyer sent the following letter to SFWA President Ben Bova on Monday, August 5, 1991:

Ben Bova, President
Science Fiction Writers of America

Dear Ben:

At the SFWA business meeting held during the 1991 Nebula Weekend, Robin Bailey, South-Central Regional Director, pointed out that he was ill-equipped to handle the concerns of Canadian members. He proposed the establishment of a Canadian Region, and his proposal was seconded by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

Robin approached me unofficially immediately following that meeting and asked if I'd be interested in serving as Canadian Regional Director, should such a region be established. I said yes then, and am still willing to do so.

There are several issues SFWA could be exploring that are primarily of benefit to Canadian writers. Rather than have the organization's general energies taken up by these, it makes sense to me that there be a separate Canadian region. Among these issues:

  • Separation of Canadian and American rights. Considering Canada part of the U.S. domestic market is a holdover from days long gone when Canada had little publishing of its own. Many Canadian SF writers are keenly interested in unbundling these territories, and some, including Guy Gavriel Kay and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, are already having success in getting separate advances for Canadian and American rights from major publishers. Other writers, including SFWAn Terence M. Green, are finding Canada more lucrative than the U.S. as an initial market.

  • Government support of the Arts. As recently reported in Locus, Spider Robinson has just received a grant from the British Columbia government to support his fiction writing, and Judith Merril is a multiple recipient of Canada Council grants. The Ontario Arts Council recently made a grant to Terence M. Green so that he could expand to novel-length his short story "Ashland, Kentucky," originally published in Asimov's. Though the concept is foreign (pun intended) to most American writers, government grants to authors are prestigious and reasonably common here. However, SF tends not to be considered a legitimate form of literature for the granting process.

  • Public Lending Right. As in Britain, Canada has "Public Lending Right" payments, compensating authors for lost royalties on books borrowed from libraries. However, the method used for calculating who gets paid, and how much, discriminates against paperback publication, the form in which most genre fiction appears.

  • Writing in French and English. There's a booming Québécois SF marketplace. Opportunities are increasing for French writers to be published in English translation, and vice versa. Indeed, recently, Élisabeth Vonarburg of Chicoutimi sold two French novels to Bantam Spectra.

  • Tax issues. Canadian taxes are different from and generally more onerous than U.S. taxes. For instance, many Canadian writers' groups have been lobbying Ottawa for the removal of the new Goods and Services Tax from books, but SF writers in this country have lacked a credible collective voice to join in the protest.

  • Bringing more Canadians into SFWA. According to a database I've complied, there are 105 Canadians eligible for active or affiliate membership in SFWA. I've been working informally for years with Peter Pautz, trying to bring more of these people into the fold. We've had some success, but many bona fide Canadian SF professionals -- including Judith Merril, William Gibson, Guy Gavriel Kay, Baen author Shirley Meier, DAW author Tanya Huff, and Bantam author Michelle Sagara, just to name a few -- have decided to pass on joining SFWA. SFWA's strength is directly proportional to the percentage of SF writers it represents. Bringing in the Canadians -- especially the many non-member Canadians working for U.S. publishers -- will increase the association's clout (and, of course, increase our revenue base, as well).

  • Conferences in Canada. Next year's Science Fiction Research Association annual meeting will be in Montréal, the Bouchercon mystery convention will be in Toronto, and Winnipeg is one of two bidders for the 1994 WorldCon. Further, each year "Canvention," the Canadian National SF Convention, takes place in a different city. All SFWAns wishing to attend these conferences would benefit if there was an official Canadian presence for our organization and a designated domestic liaison.

Ben, I urge you to proceed with Robin Bailey's proposal and establish a Canadian Region of SFWA. I volunteer to serve as the first Regional Director.

I have been a SFWA member since 1983; make 100% of my living as a freelance writer; have corresponded with every Canadian SFWA member; run Toronto Hydra, an organization for SF professionals founded by Judith Merril; write a column about Canadian SF for the newsletter of the Friends of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy (formerly the Spaced Out Library); and am The Canadian Encyclopedia's authority on SF. The enclosed material gives more background about me.

Thank you for your consideration, Ben. I hope to see you at the WorldCon in Chicago later this month.


Robert J. Sawyer

SFWA Unanimously Approves Canadian Region

Region Established Effective Immediately

All Canadian SFWAns Automatically Part of it

First published in the May 1992 issue of Alouette: The Newsletter of the Canadian Region of SFWA

At the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America business meeting held on April 26, 1992, in Atlanta, Georgia, a formal motion to create a separate Canadian region of SFWA was carried unanimously. A secondary proposal, that the Canadian Regional Director should have a full vote on the SFWA Board of Directors, was also overwhelmingly approved. However, actually giving the Canadian Director a vote has been deferred to the business meeting at the WorldCon in September.

In alphabetical order, the Regions of SFWA are now:

  • Canada
  • Eastern United States
  • Overseas
  • South/Central United States
  • Western United States

The five regional directors, plus the four SFWA officers (president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer) comprise the corporation's Board of Directors.

All Canadian-resident SFWAns are now automatically members of the Canadian Region. Special thanks go to Robin Bailey, South/Central Regional Director, for first proposing the Canadian Region a year ago and for making the motion in Atlanta to create it. Also a tip of the hat to Eastern Regional Director Ann Crispin, who seconded the motion in Atlanta.

At the request of Directors Bailey and Crispin, I have agreed to be a candidate for Canadian Regional Director. SFWA elections chair T. Jackson King did not seek other candidates for the Canadian directorships. However, there is a provision for a write-in candidate on the ballot. You should have received your ballot by now; please mail it in time to arrive by May 27.

I know almost all Canadian SFWAns are delighted with the creation of our new region. On Monday, April 13, 1992, SFWA President Ben Bova asked me to conduct a survey of opinions of Canadian Active Members who had not yet declared a stance on the issue of a Canadian Region.

In calling coast-to-coast, it was great getting to talk to so many of you (although I wish Ben had volunteered to have SFWA cover the expenses for the survey!). The responses below were gathered from letters to Forum or myself, declarations at the December 1991 Ontario SFWA or April 1992 Ontario Hydra meetings, or from phone calls made by me on April 13 and 14, 1992:


  • Colleen Anderson (Vancouver, B.C.)
  • Lynne Armstrong-Jones (London, Ontario)
  • Mary E. Choo (Richmond, B.C.)
  • J. Brian Clarke (Calgary, Alberta)
  • Don H. De Brandt (Vancouver, B.C.)
  • Barbara Delaplace (Vancouver, B.C.)
  • Charles de Lint (Ottawa, Ontario)
  • James Alan Gardner (Waterloo, Ontario)
  • Phyllis Gotlieb (Toronto, Ontario)
  • Terence M. Green (Toronto, Ontario)
  • Sansoucy Kathenor (Greely, Ontario)
  • Eileen Kernaghan (Burnaby, B.C.)
  • Donald Kingsbury (Montreal, Quebec)
  • Shirley Meier (Huntsville, Ontario)
  • John Park (Ottawa, Ontario)
  • Teresa Plowright (Bowen Island, B.C.)
  • Spider Robinson (Vancouver, B.C.)
  • Robin Rowland (Toronto, Ontario)
  • Michelle Sagara (Toronto, Ontario)
  • Robert J. Sawyer (North York, Ontario)
  • Kathryn A. Sinclair (Edmonton, Alberta)
  • S.M. Stirling (Toronto, Ontario)
  • Edo van Belkom (Brampton, Ontario)
  • Karen Wehrstein (Huntsville, Ontario)
  • Andrew Weiner (Toronto, Ontario)
  • Robert Charles Wilson (Nanaimo, B.C.)


  • Dave Duncan (Calgary, Alberta)
  • Leslie Gadallah (Winterburn, Alberta)

I'm delighted that the proposal had such overwhelming backing from all regions of Canada. And now, to work!

A Vote for Canada?

The following was published in the June 1992 issue of Forum, the private newsletter of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

The April 1992 SFWA business meeting in Atlanta overwhelmingly approved as separate items both the creation of a Canadian Region and the empowering of the Canadian Regional Director with a full vote on SFWA's Board of Directors.

A Canadian Region has indeed now been created, and I'm delighted. However, despite the strong support for it in Atlanta, President Bova has deferred until the SFWA September meeting in Orlando the empowering of the Canadian Regional Director with a vote (although the Canadian Director nonetheless is to be fully involved in Board deliberations as soon as he or she is elected).

Presumably this decision arises from the concern, first voiced by Jerry Pournelle at the SFWA business meeting last year in Chicago, that the Canadian Region, smallest in population of all SFWA regions, should possibly not have a voice equal to that of the Western Region, which is the largest. But comparing those two regions is silly. The appropriate comparison is not between smallest and largest, but between smallest and next-smallest. The next-smallest region is the Overseas, which consists of 57 members (of which 44 are active). The Canadian Region, which suffered three resignations last year over the membership-reform debate, currently stands at 35 members (of which 28 are active).

If 57 members is big enough to warrant a vote on the Board of Directors but 35 is not, what, one must ask, is the magic cut-off number? And once that number is set, is SFWA prepared to remove the Overseas Regional Director's vote should his constituency fall below it? That region, too, was hit by resignations over the reform debate, including Harry Harrison's. Meanwhile, despite the recent resignations, the Canadian Region is still the fastest-growing one in SFWA, and is bigger now than the Overseas Region was when it got the vote. Note, too, that the largest SFWA regions in geographic area are the Overseas and the Canadian. The three American regions are all tiny in comparison.

But the key point being missed in this discussion is that it's not just regional directors who have votes. SFWA officers are voting members of the Board, as well. Prior to the creation of the Canadian Region, there were eight members of the SFWA Board of Directors, each of which had one vote: President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and the Western, South/Central, Eastern, and Overseas Regional Directors.

In all of SFWA's history, seven of those eight seats have always been occupied by Americans, making the ratio of American to non-American votes on the Board 7 to 1. The addition of a voting Canadian Director would make that 7 to 2 — hardly enough power for the damn foreigners to overthrow the government.

If one wants to question the weighting of votes on the SFWA Board, perhaps one could begin by asking why, for instance, the secretary has a full vote. Yes, in other organizations, the secretary is responsible for recruitment and keeping the membership rolls — but not in SFWA, where those jobs are taken care of by our one employee, Peter Pautz. No, our elected secretary is just one of many volunteers doing work for the organization. His or her job amounts to little more than printing out in booklet form an already-computerized database and recording minutes at those meetings he or she happens to attend. Surely any Regional Director, by virtue of being responsible to a specific constituency (regardless of its size), is at least as deserving of a vote.

More: Regional Directors have a history of long-term service on the Board, while officers do not. Pierre Barbet, for instance, has been Overseas Regional Director for as long as I can remember. Surely SFWA benefits from having voting Directors who can bring continuity to the organization's policies.

I'm sure it was inadvertent, but by denying even until September a vote for the Canadian Regional Director, Ben has made second-class members out of the Canadians, for we are now the only ones in all of SFWA to not be represented on the Board by a voting Director. Robin Bailey's original motion to establish a Canadian Region was designed to recognize the significance of the Canadian members of SFWA. By creating a Canadian Region with no vote on the Board of Directors, exactly the opposite has occurred: we Canadians have been stripped of any power in running the organization. I protest this in the strongest possible terms, and trust this injustice will be rectified in Orlando.

A Vote for Canada!

First published in the March 1993 issue of Alouette: The Newsletter of the Canadian Region of SFWA

Twenty-three months after a Canadian Region of SFWA was first proposed, that region is now fully equal in standing with the other four SFWA regions. By a ballot that went to all active members, SFWA has overwhelmingly approved a full vote on the corporation's Board of Directors for the Canadian Regional Director: 475 ballots were cast in favor of giving the Canadian Director a vote, while only 40 opposed the idea. That's 12-to-1 in favor, and not only represents a majority of those who returned ballots but also an absolute majority of all Active members. Rarely in the corporation's history has any motion passed so overwhelmingly; even the vote to accept fantasy writing as a valid membership credential passed by a narrower margin. Robert J. Sawyer began a three-year term as Canadian Regional Director on July 1, 1992.

Outgoing Canadian Regional Director's Report

by Robert J. Sawyer

Published in the August 1995 issue of Forum, the private newsletter of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

At the end of my term of office, I wish to congratulate Edo van Belkom on becoming the second-ever Canadian Regional Director of SFWA. Edo ran for the job at my request and with my full support, and I know he will be terrific at it.

Since SFWA is famous for its lack of institutional memory, I thought I'd begin this final report with a quick history of the creation of the Canadian Region, including citations of where the relevant documentation can be found.

The idea of a Canadian Region was first proposed by Robin W. Bailey, who, then and now, was South/Central Regional Director of SFWA. He made his proposal on Saturday, April 27, 1991, at SFWA's Annual General Meeting held as part of that year's Nebula weekend in New York City. Nina Kiriki Hoffman seconded the proposal (minutes, Forum 121, June 1991, page 4). Robin suggested that I spearhead the creation of the new region, and I agreed.

I spent the next year consulting with Canadian SFWAns about what they wanted. In April 1992, at the request of then-president Ben Bova, I conducted a survey of all Canadian Active members. Twenty-six were in favor of the creation of a Canadian Region; two opposed the idea (minutes, Forum 126, June 1992, page 4).

At the 1992 SFWA Annual General Meeting, held April 25 in Atlanta, Georgia, South/West Regional Director Robin W. Bailey moved for the formal creation of the Canadian Region; Eastern Regional Director Ann C. Cripsin seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously, and President Ben Bova declared the region officially created (minutes, Forum 126, June 1992, page 5).

During the 1992 SFWA elections, I was elected first Director of the Canadian Region, and began a three-year term of office on July 1, 1992. However, actually giving the Canadian Regional Director a vote on SFWA's Board of Directors (something all other Regional Directors had) required a bylaw change.

In March 1993, a by-mail referendum of the full SFWA membership was conducted by then-secretary Dafydd ab Hugh. Four hundred and seventy-five members voted in favor of giving the Canadian Regional Director a vote; only 40 voted against. Not only was that 12-to-1 in favor by those who returned ballots, but the 475 yes votes represented an absolute majority of all active SFWA members (Forum 132, August 1993, page 14). The bylaws were changed, and, at last, the founding of the Canadian Region was complete.

All well and good. But what else has been accomplished during this time? Well, I edited, photocopied, and mailed (at my own expense, totaling over US$400) ten issues of Alouette, a newsletter for members of the Canadian Region. Included were market reports, articles on the business and craft of writing, reports on lobbying issues, and member profiles, interviews, and newsnotes totaling 125,000 words. A complete archival set will be donated to The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy, which is the special science-fiction collection of the Toronto Public Library Board.

I also negotiated 20% discounts for Active Canadian SFWA members at both Canada's oldest science-fiction specialty store (Bakka) and its largest one (Sci-Fi World). I arranged for a blanket recall of an offensive anthology contract from a Canadian publisher, affecting 22 writers (the publisher issued a revised contract), and I provided consulting services on contracts and standard business practices to River Bend Press, a new Canadian SF book publisher in Calgary. In addition, I got a couple of Canadian conventions to offer free memberships to the spouses of SFWA members who were appearing on programming, got one convention to cough up a belated Guest-of-Honor expense reimbursement, and another to fire its GoH liaison after an embarrassing screw-up involving an American SFWAn. I also provided liaison services with Conadian, the Winnipeg Worldcon, until Joel Rosenberg took over as SFWA's official liaison (and I provided additional services during the con itself, as Joel did not attend it).

I wrote a successful dunning notice for a member who had been stiffed on a speaker's fee; wrote letters of recommendation for members seeking residencies or applying for grants; helped members deal with registration for Canada's new Goods and Services Tax; prepared five editions of the brochure "Award Winning Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy," of which thousands of copies were distributed by Bakka; wrote dozens of letters lobbying various government departments for better treatment of writers and booksellers in Canada; interceded in several SFWA membership-qualification and membership-categorization problems; and brought several new members into the association.

Of benefit to all SFWAns is the Canadian Region's continued lobbying over the unreasonably low royalty rates paid by American publishers on books sold in Canada (there's no reason why the royalty rate should be any lower than the U.S. rate). I spoke frequently on this topic with SFWA's agent Richard Curtis, and our lobbying resulted in a front-page story called "The Great Canadian Royalty Rip-off" by agent Donald Maass in the newsletter of the Association of Authors Representatives (Spring 1994). Some Canadian members are now achieving better Canadian royalty rates, and I urge all SFWAns everywhere to push for them in their future contract negotiations.

Beyond Canada's borders, I proposed what became SFWA's random audit program (which is largely modeled on the program of The Writers' Union of Canada) (letters, Forum 123, October 1991 [during the Bova administration] and Forum 127, August 1992 [at the beginning of the Haldeman administration]), and consulted with then-treasurer Michael Capobianco on the mechanics of such a program.

While on the Board of Directors, I proposed and was delighted to see pass legislation that put an end to the practice of selling lifetime associate (that is, beginner) SFWA memberships and that eliminated the dues disparity between associate and active members, which, after Forum began going to both classes, amounted to nothing more than charging a fee for the right to actually vote (President's Message, Forum 133, October 1993, page 1).

I also was the first director (but by no means the last) during the Haldeman administration to raise substantial concerns about the performance of our incumbent Executive Secretary, and, with Chuq von Rospach, proposed publicly what has become the de facto outline for the proposed new office of SFWA Executive Director, now being reviewed by a special committee (letter, Forum 134, December 1993, page 6). (And, to answer Jerry Pournelle's question in Forum 140, I voted against the ratification of the incumbent Executive Secretary's contract.)

The one achievement of mine that I hope does not get lost in the shuffle is the SFWA Senior Membership Benefit, which I proposed in Forum: "After thirty years of continuous membership in the association, at least 25 of which have been as an active member, every SFWAn automatically becomes entitled to free associate membership for the remainder of his or her life." (Forum 132, August 1993, page 16). This motion was presented in my absence by then-president Joe Haldeman at the SFWA business meeting in San Francisco, September 4, 1993, and was formally moved by Jerry Pournelle (with the amendment that the free membership be at the active level), seconded by Jonathan Post, and passed overwhelmingly (minutes, Forum 133, October 1993, page 7; also, "President's Message," same issue, page 1). The Board of Directors subsequently enacted this as a working procedure. Since 1995 marks the beginning of our association's thirtieth year of existence, we now have our first group of senior members entitled to take advantage of this benefit.

It's been a long four years and two months since I became involved in the politics of SFWA . . . but, looking back, I'm glad I did. The Canadian Region is now firmly and permanently established, and, as I hope the above illustrates, its existence has been — and I'm sure will continue to be — of real benefit not just to SFWA members living in Canada, but to the organization as a whole.

Alouette: The Newsletter of the Canadian Region of SFWA

Between 1992 and 1997, Robert J. Sawyer edited and published at his own expense eleven issues of Alouette, a newsletter for members of the Canadian Region of SFWA. Named for Canada's first satellite, Alouette was nominated for the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association's Aurora Award for Best Fanzine of 1993.

Alouette contained interviews with and articles by many Canadian SF&F writers, short stories by some of Canada's best writers, and publishing newsnotes, career tips, and more, providing a valuable historical snapshot of the most significant decade in the rise of Canadian science fiction and fantasy.

All issues of Alouette in one PDF file

More Good Reading

More about Canadian Science Fiction
Rob Sawyer's SFWA presidential platform
"The Sawyer Referendum" — a new SFWA for the new millennium

My Very Occasional Newsletter

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