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  • Furlong Defamation Trial Concludes


    (ATR) The defamation lawsuit against ex-Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong is in the hands of a judge, after the two week trial wrapped up June 26.

    Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong (Getty Images)
    Reporter Laura Robinson's lawsuit against Furlong, filed in January 2014 in British Columbia Supreme Court, took issue with Furlong calling her a shoddy journalist and activist who has a vendetta against male authority figures.

    Furlong was first to sue Robinson and the Georgia Straight newspaper for defamation in November 2012, two months after Robinson's expose, headlined "John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake" was published.

    Robinson's story noted inconsistencies in his Patriot Hearts memoir and included allegations by former Furlong gym class students that he abused them in 1969 and 1970.
    Furlong dropped his defamation lawsuit against the newspaper in October 2013 and against Robinson in March of this year after three sexual abuse lawsuits by people claiming to be former students never made it to trial.

    Robinson's lawyer, Bryan Baynham, emphasized how Furlong attacked Robinson's reputation during a public relations campaign in fall 2012 and fall 2013, rather than scheduling a trial. He never did retaliate against his accusers, who swore affidavits and were named in Robinson's story. "He excels at the court of public opinion," Baynham told Justice Catherine Wedge during closing arguments. "My client seeks justice in a court of law.

    "The defendant has failed to distinguish between quoting and asserting," Baynham said. "Ms. Robinson did not say Mr. Furlong abused individual students, she quoted others. The people she quoted, those individuals, not her, made the attacks.
    Baynham called Furlong motivated by "a reckless disregard for the truth, with malice" when he falsely accused Robinson of making an RCMP complaint against him on behalf of a source and for implying that Robinson attempted extortion.

    Baynham said Robinson properly reported the omissions and inaccuracies in Patriot Hearts and gave Furlong ample opportunities to comment beforehand, but was instead threatened with a lawsuit. Baynham accused Furlong of bearing the grudge against Robinson for revealing information about his life that he wanted to keep secret.

    During cross-examination, Baynham grilled Furlong about not mentioning in the book how he came to Canada from Ireland in 1969 as a Catholic missionary; Furlong said his book was a memoir, not an autobiography. Baynham also established Furlong returned to Canada as a landed immigrant in 1975, not 1974, something Furlong called "frankly irrelevant." 

    Furlong's arrival in Edmonton has been mentioned in hundreds of speeches before and after the 2010 Games and was featured in Patriot Hearts

    "He's described in the book as a born storyteller, he's a great raconteur, but I suggest he doesn't let the facts interfere with a good story," Baynham said.

    Defence lawyer John Hunter called it an "upside down case" and referred to Robinson as a "self-styled journalist" whose incendiary article falsely accused a prominent Canadian of child abuse and racism. He suggested Robinson should not be shocked Furlong fought back the way he did in order to protect his reputation.

    "If you're going to dish it out, better be prepared to take it. That's the principle that is the complete answer to this lawsuit," Hunter said.

    Hunter said he was not aware of any similar case in the Commonwealth where a reporter has sued his or her target. He called it a textbook case in favour of qualified privilege: Hunter said Furlong was allowed to attack the character of the attacker in self-defence and the law has held that such a style of response "is not going to be measured in nice scales.
    Said Hunter: "In this two week trial there was no evidence that there had been any abuse committed by Mr. Furlong, he denied it, he brought the principal of the school in (court) to say she had never had an incident of abuse... he didn't use the strap."

    In his rebuttal, Baynham said the case was about Furlong defaming Robinson.

    "My friend said time and again that there was no evidence led about the abuse that was alleged in the Sept. 27, 2012 story. Well there's no evidence led because it was not relevant to the matters at issue in this case."

    Wedge said she would provide written reasons "as soon as possible" but did not offer any estimate.

    Reported by Bob Mackin in Vancouver.

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