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Gordon Campbell won’t comment on abuse allegations against Furlong

Former VANOC CEO John Furlong has adamantly denied allegations he abused students at a Burns Lake elementary school when working there an 18 year old missionary, and has said he will sue the Georgia Straight and free-lance reporter Laura Robinson for publishing the story he called an inaccurate “disgrace,” one that plunged he and his family into a “humiliating and demeaning” nightmare. Robinson, in turn has vowed to sue Furlong for libel.

One high profile figure who won’t be contributing his perspective is Gordon Campbell, who was premier during the Olympics and who Furlong once praised for his loyal friendship. A federal government spokesperson told The Tyee Friday that Campbell, now Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, won’t be commenting on the case.

John Furlong, president of the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, was hired to head VANOC in February 2004 and remained chief executive officer through the end of the Games, a rarity in the high-turnover world of Olympic executives, matched this year by Sebastian Coe of London 2012.

The hiring was immediately criticized by Canadian Olympic Committee-appointed director Dick Pound. Pound, Canada’s senior International Olympic Committee member, said Furlong got the job because of Campbell’s influence.

British Columbia was the guarantor of the Games and the 20-member VANOC board’s most influential voting bloc was eventually composed of five Campbell loyalists: founding chairman Jack Poole, and directors Ken Dobell, Rick Turner, Rusty Goepel and Peter Brown. Campbell and Furlong were in Amsterdam, after attending the Olympic torch lighting in Olympia, Greece, when they learned Poole died of pancreatic cancer on Oct. 23, 2009. Vice-chair Goepel took over.

Campbell often lauded Furlong, and Furlong often reciprocated. Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Campbell as High Commissioner to the UK in summer 2011, largely on the basis of the Games.

When Campbell returned to Vancouver for a Feb. 10 Vancouver Board of Trade lunch, Furlong introduced Campbell. A year earlier, dressed in their blue VANOC jackets, they led a crowd at Jack Poole Plaza in an O Canada sing-along when the Olympic cauldron was reactivated to mark the Games’ first anniversary.

In his Olympics memoir Patriot Hearts Furlong said Campbell offered his support at the greatest time of need: after the opening day death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

"What bothered me was that in our darkest hour our friends seemed to be, if not abandoning us, suddenly indifferent toward us,” according to the book. “I have never cherished fair-weather friends who crave the front row when things are going great but don't want to be around you when times are tough. The one notable exception was Gordon Campbell, who stepped out of a meeting with some U.S. governors earlier in the day to phone and offer his support. ‘I just want you to know that I'm there for you. Whatever you need just ask,’ he said. "I appreciated the generosity and gesture. The rest of our partners were in limbo."

Furlong received the Order of British Columbia at an October 2010 ceremony co-hosted by Campbell at Government House. In 2011, Furlong was on the panel that recommended Campbell receive the award.

Campbell hosted various hospitality events at Canada House by Trafalgar Square during the July 27-Aug. 12 London Olympics, but Furlong was conspicuous by his absence from the Games.

When asked by CKNW’s Philip Till, Campbell said he hadn’t spoken with Furlong for “months.”

Repeated Tyee requests to the Canadian High Commission’s press office in London and to Campbell himself for a comment about the abuse allegations facing Furlong were referred to Ottawa.

“High Commissioner Campbell confirmed that he will not be commenting on this issue,” wrote Foreign Affairs and International Trade spokesperson Amanda Reid in a Friday email.

Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, is author of the author of the e-book, Red Mittens & Red Ink: The Vancouver Olympics.

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