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Furlong abuse case comes before a judge

The lawyer for John Furlong told a B.C. Supreme Court judge March 11 that his priority is to pursue a trial against one of the women alleging physical and sexual abuse, rather than the reporter who wrote an expose about the former Vancouver Olympics CEO.

This was in response to challenges made by an opposing lawyer that Furlong seemed not in any hurry to have his defamation suit against Laura Robinson tried in court.

Furlong sued the Georgia Straight and reporter Robinson for defamation in November 2012, two months after the newspaper published a story under the headline "John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake." The article contained allegations that Furlong physically and verbally abused First Nations students when he was a physical education instructor at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C. Furlong has denied the allegations.

Last October, Furlong dropped his claim against the Georgia Straight but has still not scheduled a trial against Robinson. She sued him for defamation in January and scheduled a trial to begin March 30, 2015.

Abraham and Grace Jessie West filed separate abuse lawsuits in July 2013, followed two months later by a male, against Furlong and the Catholic church's Prince George and Vancouver regional offices. They claim they were students in Furlong's physical education class at Immaculata in 1969 and 1970.

Furlong's lawyer John Hunter, in a procedural hearing before Justice Miriam Gropper last week, keyed off questions raised by Abraham's lawyer, Jason Gratl, about why Furlong hadn't moved more quickly to set a trial date for his defamation suit against Robinson. Gratl, noted Hunter, "says, oh well [Furlong is] not really that anxious, he could be pursuing the Laura Robinson case more diligently, instead he's decided to do the (Beverly) Abraham matter. And it is certainly true, and we've said this quite openly, that Mr. Furlong has instructed us to focus on the Abraham case."

After the RCMP chose not to recommend charges in the Abraham complaint, Hunter filed for a five-day trial beginning March 16, 2015. Gratl discontinued the three lawsuits and combined them into a joint action on Feb. 6, with added claims of defamation.

"If we can get this Abraham case to trial and deal with it and get the result that we think we can get, a lot of things could fall by the wayside," Hunter told the court.

Gratl told Gropper: "The filing of the notice of trial in Ms. Abraham's claim alone has less to do with the internal logic in Ms. Abraham's claim or these three claims brought together and has much more to do with controlling the optics of discontinuing against the Georgia Straight."

To further his contention that Furlong is reluctant to have his 2012 defamation lawsuit tried in court, Gratl introduced an affidavit containing November 2013 to January 2014 correspondence between Robinson's lawyer Bryan Baynham and Furlong's lawyers in which Baynham unsuccessfully pressed for Furlong to schedule a trial against Robinson.

Examination for discovery in the Abraham lawsuit was supposed to begin in December, but Gratl's wife gave birth to twins and he was off work for three months. Hunter objected to the bid for a joint trial.

"(Gratl) hasn't provided enough information about the case, actual evidence, to know whether there really are common issues," Hunter told the court. He added that no records of West's attendance at Immaculata have been found and records don't match the name or birthdate of the male complainant.

Hunter and Gratl agreed to discontinue the joint action and delay the application to have the cases heard together. They set March 25 as the deadline for Abraham to provide an affidavit of documents. Her examination for discovery is scheduled for April 7.

Neither Furlong nor the claimants attended the hearing.

Meanwhile, TwentyTen Group filed its defence statement March 13 in the Robinson defamation lawsuit. The Gastown marketing and sponsorship company said it was contracted in September 2010 by Furlong to provide administrative support for his public speaking and corporate board duties. It set up a news conference for Furlong to respond to the allegations in September 2012, helped disseminate news releases he wrote in 2012 and 2013 and hosted Furlong's 2013 interviews by Global TV at its Vancouver office and Macleans at its Toronto office. TwentyTen Group said it is not a publisher and denied Furlong's statements were defamatory.

Due to the nature of this story, comments are closed.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

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