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Georgia Straight Defence Lists 25 People Claiming Abuse by Furlong

New allegations after article drew denials, libel suit from 2010 Olympics chief.

Bob Mackin 16 Jan

Bob Mackin is the author of the ebook Red Mittens & Red Ink: The Vancouver Olympics. Find his previous Tyee stories here.

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Former VANOC CEO John Furlong: Denies all allegations.

The chief executive of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics has been accused in B.C. Supreme Court documents of hitting children on the backs of their heads with a hockey stick and locking children out of an elementary school in the middle of winter while he taught in Burns Lake, B.C., more than 40 years ago.

The Georgia Straight newspaper's Jan. 14, 2013 response to John Furlong's Nov. 27, 2012 defamation lawsuit contains the names of 25 people who say they were physically abused, bullied and/or racially taunted by Furlong when he worked as a volunteer physical education teacher at the predominantly aboriginal Immaculata Catholic elementary school.

The Georgia Straight's Sept. 27, 2012 expose on Furlong was based, in part, on signed, statutory declarations from eight people and was headlined "John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake." The story, by Ontario freelance journalist Laura Robinson, alleged Furlong did not honestly recount his personal history of his move to Canada from Ireland or the circumstances of the death of his cousin, Siobhan Roice, in a May 17, 1974 terrorist bombing in Dublin.

The defence statement contains allegations that Furlong kicked and slapped students or struck them with a basketball or medicine ball. One ex-student, Paul Joseph, claimed he was knocked unconscious by Furlong. Another, Beverly Abraham, claimed Furlong slammed her to the ground and stomped on her back while she was doing push-ups. He was also accused of calling students "you dirty little thieving Indians" and telling them to "go home and eat some moose meat and fish."

On the day Robinson's story was published, the RCMP admitted it was investigating the allegations.

Furlong suffered no loss: defence

The Georgia Straight filing said Furlong's co-written post-Olympics memoir Patriot Hearts did not reveal five key facts about Furlong, including his 1969 arrival in the Prince George diocese as a Frontier Apostle missionary, his physical education teaching at Immaculata, the predominance of First Nations' students at Immaculata, his marriage to fellow Frontier Apostle and Immaculata kindergarten teacher Margaret Cook and their 1970 move to Prince George College to be resident supervisors.

The Georgia Straight's defence statement claims Furlong suffered no loss from the allegations and that he damaged himself by "self-publishing" the substance of the story at a Sept. 27, 2012 news conference where he vehemently denied the charges.

"He is therefore solely responsible for the republication which resulted," said the statement of defence. "If the plaintiff has suffered loss, damage and expense (which is not admitted but denied), it was caused by the plaintiff's self-publication of the inflammatory sexual abuse accusation and not by the allegedly defamatory meanings complained of."

Robinson began investigating Furlong in February 2011 after the publication of his post-Olympic memoir, Patriot Hearts. She interviewed numerous people and studied documents from a variety of sources inside and outside Canada. Robinson's defence statement is expected to be filed on Jan. 15.

Robinson also interviewed a cousin of Furlong's who said it was Roice's father Ned, not Furlong's father Jack, who identified the slain woman's body at a morgue in Dublin.

The statement said the defendants "were diligent in trying to verify the contents of the Georgia Straight article before publication, having regard to all relevant circumstances."

"The plaintiff refused to respond to specific questions concerning his life story and simply responded, through his lawyer Marvin Storrow, with a blanket denial of the allegations made in the eight statutory declarations."

The Georgia Straight denied committing libel and relies on the defences of fair comment and responsible communication in matters of public interest, such as the abuse at Catholic-run First Nations schools in the 1960s and 1970s, whether Furlong is qualified to provide "spiritual and moral guidance to other Canadians about the importance of values, honesty and integrity" and whether his life story "is a reliable and complete account."

'Never engaged' in abuse: Furlong brief

Furlong followed through on his threatened his defamation lawsuit Nov. 27, 2012, in which he claimed to have "never engaged" in abuse, bullying or racial taunting of the students.

Furlong claimed that his personal history in Patriot Hearts -- including the circumstances of the death of Roice, his father's death, the birth of his son and his immigration to Canada -- were 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 Furlong's court filing.

The Georgia Straight is represented by Roger McConchie, who has written a widely used legal manual on libel and is considered one of the top libel lawyers in Canada. McConchie was hired by ex-Liberal MLA John van Dongen last year to be a friendly intervenor in the auditor general's lawsuit seeking the agreement that absolved guilty ex-Liberal aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk from $6 million of legal bills after an October 2010 plea bargain. The charges stemmed from the 2003 sale of BC Rail to CN.

Furlong is represented by John Hunter and Claire Hunter of Hunter Litigation Chambers. John Hunter's resume includes representing the Vancouver College Foundation, Parents and Alumni Association in a 2002 B.C. Court of Appeal matter in which abuse victims from a Christian Brothers orphanage in Mount Cashel, Nfld. sought compensation. Hunter's firm includes William Berardino, the special prosecutor in the case against Basi and Virk.

At least one Furlong event cancelled

The Georgia Straight's defence statement contends "Any cancellation of paid speaking agreements" for Furlong "was caused, or alternatively contributed to, by the controversy resulting from the plaintiff's highly publicized press conference."

Despite the Georgia Straight story, 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 said that "John Furlong and the Whitecaps initiated the postponement."

Furlong was featured in the brochure for an April 11, 2013 luncheon speech at the North American YMCA Development Organization convention in Vancouver. The website, however, shows Rick Hansen appearing as the featured luncheon speaker instead.

NAYDO chair Curt Hazelbaker said NAYDO cancelled Furlong's appearance last fall on its own accord.

"John Furlong has been in the media recently," Hazelbaker said via email. "NAYDO's annual goal is to have a tremendous conference focusing on philanthropy. We don't want anything to potentially distract from a wonderful conference experience. Rick Hansen has an inspiring story of perseverance and a tremendous record in philanthropy."

Furlong 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.

His lawsuit also mentions Robinson's previously published work was critical of Furlong and VANOC, including the Olympic committee's relations with aboriginals, female ski jumpers who weren't allowed to compete at the 2010 Games and athlete safety, after the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on the Games' opening day.  [Tyee]

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