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John Furlong responds to former students' abuse lawsuits

Former Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics CEO John Furlong has denied in Sept. 23 court filings that he physically or sexually abused two students at a northern British Columbia Catholic school for aboriginal children in 1969 and 1970.

Furlong's statements of defence counter July 24 lawsuits by Beverly Mary Abraham and Grace Jessie West. Furlong says that he does not recall whether he even taught or coached them while he volunteered at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C.

"The defendant denies that he sexually molested or physically abused or engaged in any inappropriate conduct," said the statements, which were filed in B.C. Supreme Court by Furlong's lawyer John Hunter.

Abraham and West both claim Furlong abused them 44 years ago and accuse him of defaming them at a Sept. 27, 2012 news conference, where Furlong denied abuse allegations contained in a Georgia Straight feature story that was headlined "John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake." Furlong filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper and reporter Laura Robinson last November.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Furlong reaffirmed what he said at the news conference in the Sept. 23 defence statements, which said he was not "capable of being defamatory" because he made no mention of Abraham or West to the media. Both Abraham and West, his filing says, "became an identifiable subject of the press conference statement" through their own actions.

"The press conference statement was true in substance and in fact," pleaded the Furlong documents.

The Georgia Straight story targeted what it said were inconsistencies in Furlong's 2011-published memoir, Patriot Hearts. The book's first reference to Furlong arriving in Canada from his native Ireland is at Edmonton in 1974. At the 2012 news conference, Furlong admitted he had been in Burns Lake and Prince George between 1969 and 1972, but he called that portion of his life "fairly brief and fairly uneventful", though he met and married his first wife Margaret in Burns Lake.

Stories in the Prince George Citizen newspaper archive show that Furlong was the victim of two assaults in 1972 while refereeing in the notoriously rough North Cariboo Soccer Association. Two men were convicted from separate incidents, one of which resulted in Furlong suffering a broken nose and cut eyelid. A July 14, 1972 front page story under the headline "Assaulted ref off to Ireland" said Furlong could not testify against Kostas Apostolov because Furlong had returned to Ireland "after threats were made against his life by soccer teams and players."

Furlong returned to Prince George to teach at the Prince George College Catholic high school in 1974 and eventually became the city's parks and recreation director.

On July 26, Furlong filed a rebuttal in B.C. Supreme Court to the Georgia Straight and Robinson's six-month-old defence statements.

"The events alleged are said to have occurred in 1969 and the 1970s but have not been reported in the intervening decades to the plaintiff or to the authorities by any persons involved," said the July 26 filing. "This is because they never occurred."

Furlong claimed he has never verbally, physically or sexually harmed aboriginal children, but did admit to criticizing or reprimanding students for improper or unenthusiastic performance. He claimed he brought students to other authority figures for discipline.

That rebuttal also included claims that the RCMP found no merit in the allegations against Furlong and said the Mounties informed Furlong's lawyer "no charges have been laid and no report will be made to Crown counsel."

Jason Gratl, lawyer for Abraham and West, wrote July 29 to Ian MacPhail, Commissioner for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, alleging prejudice by the RCMP against his clients and a bias in favour of Furlong. Gratl noted that the RCMP led the $900-million Olympic security effort and senior officials worked closely with Furlong.

"The RCMP have a heightened duty to ensure that the sexual assault investigations of Mr. Furlong do not appear to be tainted by interference, indifference or incompetence," Gratl wrote. "To date, that duty has not been met."

Furlong remains the executive chairman of Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps, and also chairs Rocky Mountaineer Railtours and Own the Podium. He is a director of Canadian Tire and Whistler Blackcomb. Furlong has kept a low public profile since fall 2012.

His third wife, TV producer Deborah Sharp, died after in Dublin, Ireland on April 11 after a head-on car crash in rural Gorey, Ireland where the couple had purchased a home. Ireland's police service continues to investigate. A coroner's inquest opened Aug. 16, but was adjourned until Jan. 27, 2014.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee. Due to the nature of this story, comments are closed.