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Rights + Justice

Secrecy Surrounds Delays for Hearing on RCMP Probe of Furlong Allegations

A human rights tribunal hearing planned for January has stalled. Meanwhile, a number of witnesses have died.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 11 Feb

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

Jody Joseph was soft-spoken, with a gentle smile and a quiet resolve for justice. He would have turned 70 this month.

The Hagwilget, B.C. resident, who also went by the name Roddy, died in March, before he had the chance to tell his story before a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hearing looking into the RCMP’s handling of allegations of historical abuse against former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong.

Furlong was a coach at two northern B.C. schools in the late 1960s and early ’70s and has been accused of abuse by some former students. It’s been nearly a decade since the RCMP investigated the allegations and concluded there were no grounds for charges.

However, in 2016 a complaint was filed with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal over the RCMP’s handling of the investigation. In January 2020, the tribunal ruled a hearing should take place, giving witnesses the chance to provide evidence.

In June 2020, six Lake Babine Nation members filed a statement of particulars with the tribunal. They said RCMP investigators’ “stereotypes and biased attitudes” resulted in a flawed investigation.

Jody Joseph was to be one of the witnesses at the hearing. But his death ended that possibility. In the past year two of six complainants, including lead complainant Cathy Woodgate, have also died.

Jody’s brother Mike Joseph intends to be a witness at the hearing. He and Jody were teens when they attended Prince George College together for several years in the early 1970s, when Furlong was a coach there.

“Jody’s been so close to me. I said, ‘When this court hearing comes out, I want to be in the front row,’” said Mike, who is both Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan. “It’s been dragging on for too long now and I want it to go ahead right away.... Are they waiting for us to pass away?”

The hearing, titled Woodgate v. Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 10 and take six weeks.

It was postponed until Feb. 22 but has since been removed from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s list of scheduled hearings, with little explanation.

Karen Bellehumeur, lawyer for the complainants, said a confidentiality order is currently in place that does not allow her to discuss details of the case.

“I am hopeful that new hearing dates will be scheduled in the not-too-distant future,” she added.

The RCMP also declined to provide information.

“To ensure fairness for all parties involved, we are unable to comment on matters that are subject to a review process through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal,” Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said in an email. “Questions about processes and procedures are best directed to the CHRT.”

Tribunal registrar Jessie McDonald said the confidentiality order currently suspends public access to the tribunal’s public record of complaints, but that once hearing dates are rescheduled, they would be posted to the tribunal’s website.

“Unfortunately, due to the order currently in place the tribunal is unable to provide more details at this time,” McDonald said.

The tribunal did not respond to questions about the confidentiality order itself or how it affects media reporting on documents that had previously been made available, such as the complainants’ statement of particulars.

The Tyee reached out to John Furlong through his website but did not receive a response by publication time.

The six complainants allege discrimination by the RCMP, including “adverse differential treatment” and denial of access to police services based on race and national or ethnic origin contrary to Section 5 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“Bias in favour of powerful non-Indigenous individuals, even if unconsciously held, results in harmful treatment to Indigenous complainants of abuse,” the statement reads. “This dehumanization has resulted in their psychological emotional, and spiritual harm.”

In a response filed in September 2020, RCMP asked the tribunal to dismiss the complaint, saying many of the statements “misunderstand the structure of the criminal justice system and cannot be evidence of discrimination.”

Its response said the force “undertook a thorough and careful investigation” into the abuse allegations, which included a review by an RCMP serious crime unit in Alberta after a draft report was submitted in June 2013.

The allegations against Furlong were first made public in a September 2012 Georgia Straight article by Ontario-based journalist Laura Robinson. The article drew from affidavits from seven members of the Lake Babine Nation who alleged abuse by Furlong while attending Immaculata, a Catholic school in Burns Lake where Furlong worked as a coach in the late 1960s before moving on to Prince George College in the early 1970s.

In July 2012, prior to the article being published, one of Furlong’s accusers took her story to Burns Lake RCMP, which launched its two-year investigation. It concluded that the recollections of those interviewed lacked “details for time, place, identity of suspect, and any corroborating events that could possibly overcome these deficiencies,” according to the complainants’ statement.

While Furlong’s accuser was interviewed “several times to determine the consistency of her recollections,” Furlong was never interviewed by investigators. A recommendation from Alberta RCMP officers who reviewed the investigation to consider a polygraph test for Furlong was never followed up on, despite his accuser being asked to take the lie-detector test 11 times, according to the rights complaint.

Furlong has never been charged in connection with any of the allegations, and he has always vigorously denied them.

The Georgia Straight article led to a defamation suit by Furlong against the newspaper and Robinson, both of which he dropped in 2015 after three lawsuits filed against him by former students were either dismissed or withdrawn.

Robinson filed a defamation lawsuit against Furlong and lost.

Mike Joseph said his younger brother would have testified about an incident that ate away at him until his death. But the story will remain untold, he added.

“He had a mind of his own… He would have spoken for himself.”

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