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  • Vancouver Olympics Chief Faces Defamation Trial


    (ATR) Testimony is under way in the defamation lawsuit against Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong.

    Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong (Getty Images)
    Filed by a journalist who wrote an exposé about Furlong’s early years as a Canadian resident, the lawsuit from Laura Robinson came after Furlong filed a defamation lawsuit in 2012 against Robinson which he later dropped.

    Robinson’s attorney told a British Columbia Supreme Court judge in opening statements June 15 that Furlong never intended to follow through on his lawsuit against the journalist.

    “Mr. Furlong’s strategy to use the media to lambaste Ms. Robinson has increased the damage to her reputation,” Bryan Baynham said before Justice Catherine Wedge.

    “Her credibility with publishers has been seriously harmed, alleging that Ms. Robinson is an activist or somehow caused or made up the allegations she reported on is a ruinous allegation to make about a journalist.”

    Furlong sat in the back row of the courtroom with his companion, former Vancouver 2010 vice president of communications Renee Smith-Valade. Robinson sat two rows ahead.

    Robinson’s September 2012 story in the Georgia Straight, headlined “John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake,” revealed that he came to Canada from Ireland in 1969 as a physical education teacher for a northern British Columbia Catholic elementary school for aboriginals. Furlong’s 2011 memoir, Patriot Hearts, claimed he arrived in 1974 at Edmonton.

    The story included allegations from aboriginal students who said Furlong abused them. Furlong immediately denied the accusations and sued for defamation two months later. He never scheduled a trial against Robinson, but embarked on a media blitz in fall 2013, calling her an activist who was responsible for complaints made to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

    Robinson filed a countersuit in January 2014. But Furlong discontinued his action against the newspaper in October 2013 and Robinson in March of this year. Baynham said Furlong wanted to try the case in the “court of public opinion, not a court of law.”

    “By dropping the suit, Mr. Furlong conceded that Ms. Robinson’s original story was true, his legal right to clear his name died when he filed that notice of discontinuance,” Baynham said.

    Baynham told the court that the Toronto Star was originally planning to simultaneously publish the story with the Georgia Straight during the London 2012 Olympics, but withdrew. The Vancouver weekly published alone.

    Baynham told the court that Robinson was simply doing her job as a journalist best-known for “critical analysis of the safety and well-being of athletes and the equality issues” for women and aboriginals in sport. Since the attacks by Furlong, Baynham said Robinson’s ability to find work has dwindled and the cost of defending herself has exceeded $150,000.

    “Why did Mr. Furlong defame and attempt to discredit Ms. Robinson?” Baynham said. “He did it because she reported on aspects of his past, that he did his best to keep hidden and because she reported on serious allegations about Mr. Furlong made by former First Nations students.”

    Baynham said Robinson has suffered mentally and emotionally with “several trips to emergency wards in serious physical complications due to the stress she was under.”

    The RCMP dropped its investigation of Furlong in 2013.

    Three lawsuits alleging physical and sexual abuse never made it to trial.

    Wedge, coincidentally, was an equestrienne for Canada in the Montreal 1976 Olympics.

    Written and reported in Vancouver by Bob Mackin

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