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Journalist wants Furlong to prove background of allegation he backed away from

The Ontario journalist countersuing John Furlong for defamation wants the former Vancouver Olympics CEO to reveal his sources and show what steps he took to confirm allegedly defamatory statements he made against her.

On April 24, Laura Robinson filed a demand for particulars in B.C. Supreme Court and a rebuttal to Furlong's Feb. 27 defence statement, in which he admitted he "has no direct or actual knowledge of whether (Robinson) initiated a complaint with or otherwise reported Ms. Abraham's (sexual abuse) allegations to the RCMP."

In an emailed statement today, Robinson said: "I played no role in Ms. Abraham's decision to report allegations of sexual abuse by Furlong to the RCMP. There is no source for his defamatory statements nor any document to back up his oft repeated statement that I went to the Burns Lake RCMP in the summer of 2012."

Beverly Abraham is one of three people who sued Furlong in 2013, claiming he mentally, physically and sexually abused them while they were his gym class students at Immaculata Catholic elementary in Burns Lake in 1969 and 1970. Furlong has denied the allegations, which have not been proven in court. Last December, the RCMP said it would not recommend charges against Furlong over Abraham's criminal complaint.

Furlong sued the Georgia Straight and 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 story alleged physical abuse of schoolchildren and inconsistencies in his 2011-published Patriot Hearts memoir.

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

Robinson's new court filings accuse Furlong of malice or reckless indifference to the truth. She claims Furlong cannot rely on a responsible communication defence, which is only available for reporting on matters of public interest. "It is not available to a party with a direct interest in a dispute advocating on his own behalf," said the document, filed by her lawyer Bryan Baynham.

"On Nov. 13, 2013, the defendant Furlong was specifically advised that the defamatory allegations set out in the notice of civil claim were false," said the court document. "Despite having this knowledge, the defendant Furlong did not remove the defamatory allegations from his website or attach a suitable qualification. Accordingly if the defence of responsible communication on matters of public interest is available to the defendant Furlong (which is denied), it ceased being available as of Nov. 13, 2013."

Furlong claims his public speaking career was ruined by the allegations in Robinson's story. He remains chair of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Rocky Mountaineer Railtours and Own the Podium, and a director of Canadian Tire and Whistler Blackcomb.

At a March 11 procedural hearing about the three abuse lawsuits, Abraham's lawyer Jason Gratl was critical of Furlong's reluctance to set trial dates against Robinson in the defamation action that he started. Gratl introduced an affidavit containing November 2013 to January 2014 correspondence between Baynham and Furlong's lawyers in which Baynham unsuccessfully pressed for Furlong to schedule a trial against Robinson.

Furlong's lawyer John Hunter told the court: "Mr. Furlong has instructed us to focus on the Abraham case."

"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," he said.

Said Robinson in her April 25 statement: "Mr. Furlong's defamatory statements are bad enough for ordinary citizens, but against a journalist whose livelihood depends on professionalism and due diligence, they are particularly appalling."

Robinson claimed the dispute has cost her more than $200,000 in lost income, legal fees and expenses. The Georgia Straight defamation insurance did not cover her, but the newspaper is sponsoring her May 1 defence fund fundraiser at St. James Hall in Vancouver.

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since he began as a journalist in 1990. Find his Tyee articles here. Due to the nature of this story, comments are closed.

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