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Assembly of First Nations Seeks Investigation of Furlong Abuse Allegations

Delegates to annual meeting say original claims have never been properly addressed.

By Bob Mackin 15 Jul 2016 | TheTyee.ca

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since 1990. Find his Tyee articles .

The Assembly of First Nations wants a “thorough and impartial investigation” into allegations former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong abused aboriginal students more than 45 years ago.

Delegates to the assembly’s annual general meeting this week supported a resolution calling for an investigation by the RCMP and the federal government.

The resolution also called on the federal government to meet “the affected members of Lake Babine Band Council, Burns Lake Band Council, and any other affected former students to hear their concerns about the conduct of investigations and to discuss with them acceptable remedies.”

The resolution was moved by Lake Babine Chief Wilf Adam.

The abuse allegations were raised in a Georgia Straight article by Laura Robinson in September 2012. Furlong denied the accusations and attacked Robinson’s reporting practices and credibility.

Furlong claimed vindication last September when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge ruled that Furlong’s statements were covered by the defence of qualified privilege.

But Cathy Woodgate, one of the former students alleging abuse, says their charges have never been properly investigated.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Nov. 26 she asked the government to meet with the ex-students and remove Furlong as chair of the federally funded, Canadian Olympic Committee-affiliated Own the Podium program.

Wedge reached her decision without hearing from those claiming abuse, the letter signed by Woodgate and seven others noted.

“In her September 2015 judgment, the judge made comments about us without hearing from us. No one had time to listen to us. They should have talked to us before the decision was made.”

Robinson’s 2012 story was based on the affidavits of eight people, including Woodgate, who said they were physically or mentally abused by Furlong while he was a gym teacher at Immaculata Catholic school in Burns Lake.

Furlong had come to Canada from Ireland as an 18-year-old missionary, but did not mention that in his 2011-published memoir, Patriot Hearts.

Furlong sued Robinson and the Georgia Straight, but later dropped both suits.

RCMP did not proceed with charges after investigating a subsequent sexual abuse complaint by former student Beverly Abraham. Abraham and two others filed civil lawsuits, but none went to trial.

Trudeau never replied to Woodgate’s open letter.

Furlong’s lawyer Claire Hunter responded with a statement saying he had “consistently stated that he is innocent of the alleged abuse and each allegation that has been subject to investigation by the RCMP or finding of the courts has been found to be unsubstantiated.”

On June 3, seven months after Woodbridge sent the letter, Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough replied and rejected the call to remove Furlong as Own the Podium chair.

“Mr. Furlong is a volunteer chair of the board and receives no remuneration for his role with the organization,” Qualtrough wrote. “That being said, I cannot comment on the allegations against Mr. Furlong, as they have been dealt with by the Canadian justice system.”

The draft AFN resolution said Qualtrough’s claim the allegations have been “dealt with by the Canadian justice system” is untrue.

Qualtrough’s press secretary, Ashley Michnowski, did not respond to a Tyee request for comment on Thursday.

Furlong was appointed last month to head a subcommittee for the Canadian Olympic Committee aimed at helping Calgary explore a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

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