John Furlong claims Ontario journalist Laura Robinson defamed him as recently as the last weekend of November.
Exactly two months after the Georgia Straight published Robinson’s expose on the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics CEO, Furlong followed through Nov. 27 on a threatened defamation lawsuit seeking unspecified monetary damages, an apology and retraction, and an order that the weekly newspaper remove the story from the Internet.
The 11-page civil claim denied the abuse claims made in the story, which was headlined “John Furlong Biography Omits Secret Past in Burns Lake,” and was filed in B.C. Supreme Court by lawyers John Hunter and Claire Hunter of Hunter Litigation Chambers. Attached to the claim is the story itself. See the full filing below.
The named defendants are Robinson, publisher Dan McLeod, editor Charlie Smith and Vancouver Free Press Publishing Corporation, the parent company of the Georgia Straight. No other media outlet is named in the lawsuit. CBC TV reported about the allegations also on Sept. 27 and included an interview with a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by Furlong. Neither Robinson nor Smith would comment on the lawsuit, but both have defended the story. In October, Robinson even threatened to countersue Furlong, after he released a statement his website that she claimed defamed her.
Robinson interviewed eight people who swore statements claiming Furlong abused them while he was their physical education teacher at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, where he arrived as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school in Ireland. Furlong’s post-Olympic memoir, Patriot Hearts, made no mention of being in Canada prior to 1974 when he arrived at Edmonton International Airport to take up permanent residence, nor did his book mention he originally came to Canada as a member of the Catholic Frontier Apostolate lay missionary group.
"During his time as a teacher, the plaintiff (Furlong) never engaged in abuse of his students, nor did the plaintiff engage in bullying or racial taunting, as alleged or at all,” said Furlong’s court filing.
Furlong claims that his personal history in Patriot Hearts -- including the circumstances of the death of his cousin Siobhan Roice, his father's death, the birth of his son and his immigration to Canada -- are true.
"The allegation in the Georgia Straight article that the plaintiff was not honestly recounting his personal history in Patriot Hearts is false and defamatory and was included in the article solely to further the objective of the defendant Robinson to discredit the plaintiff in the estimation of the public,” said the court filing.
Robinson is working on a follow-up story after more alleged victims have come forward in response to the first story. Furlong claims Robinson further defamed him in a Nov. 8 email to Chris Dornan of Own the Podium, of which Furlong is the chairman. It said Robinson wrote, in part, that: "There is a great deal of confirmation that Mr. Furlong was violent and a racist."
In a Nov. 25 email, Robinson is alleged to have written: "Former students of John Furlong's have made very serious allegations recently in signed documents about his violence against women and children." The civil claim said Furlong has suffered “grave damage to his character and reputation,” that his family have “suffered distress and embarrassment,” and that unspecified, paid speaking engagements have been cancelled.
Furlong appeared as scheduled in Grande Prairie, Alta., at the Alberta Sport Development Centre awards on Oct. 13 and at the Abbotsford B.C. economic symposium on Nov. 20. An Oct. 16 Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon, billed as “Behind the Bench: An Insider’s Look at Whitecaps FC,” was quietly cancelled on Oct. 2. Board of Trade spokesman Greg Hoekstra told me for a Business in Vancouver story in October that “John Furlong and the Whitecaps initiated the postponement.”
Furlong, however, remains executive chairman of the Vancouver Whitecaps, chairman of Own the Podium and Rocky Mountaineer railtours and a director of Whistler Blackcomb and Canadian Tire.
The lawsuit mentions Robinson’s previously published work was critical of Furlong and VANOC, including the Olympic organizing committee’s relations with aboriginals, female ski jumpers who weren’t allowed to compete at the 2010 Games and athlete safety. Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died from a crash at the Whistler Sliding Centre on the Games’ opening day. CBC’s Fifth Estate obtained a March 2009 internal VANOC email by Furlong to senior executives at VANOC about track safety concerns. Athletes were reaching speeds that were faster than what the track had been designed for.
The filing said Furlong knew the story was going to be published on Sept. 25 and his lawyer, Marvin Storrow, wrote to Smith, admitting they had met with the RCMP. “In the event that anything defamatory is published by anyone concerning Mr. Furlong that a civil defamation action will be
commenced forthwith thereafter."
The filing also said Robinson filed a report with the RCMP and that in August, the RCMP advised Smith that "there were inconsistencies between the accounts of the defendant Robinson and the former student named" by Robinson. On Sept. 27, when the story was published, the RCMP admitted that an investigation was ongoing.
When Robinson and the Georgia Straight file their defence statement, you’ll see it here.
Furlong v Georgia Straight