Furlong accuses lawyer of sullying dead wife’s reputation at defamation trial
VANCOUVER — Former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong raised his voice and angrily thumped his fist during testimony as he defended himself at a B.C. Supreme Court defamation trial on Tuesday.
During fiery cross-examination, Furlong accused lawyer Bryan Baynham — who is representing freelance journalist Laura Robinson — of sullying his deceased wife’s reputation.
Robinson is suing Furlong for comments he made after she wrote an article that included affidavits from eight former First Nations students alleging he physically and verbally abused them at a Roman Catholic school in northern B.C. about 45 years ago.
Baynham suggested Furlong lied when he testified that Deborah Furlong drove around on the morning the story was published in September 2012 and grabbed as many Georgia Straight newspapers as she could.
“How dare you sully her reputation and her life like that? I gave you exactly what she did,” Furlong shot back. “She was totally distraught.”
Furlong has testified that the allegations contained in the article are “absolutely not true.” He said the stress forced him and his wife to flee to Ireland, where she died in a car crash in 2013.
At a news conference the day the article was published, Furlong accused Robinson of a “shocking lack of diligence” and “inaccurate reporting.”
Baynham read emails in court that showed Furlong retained a lawyer, Marvin Storrow, in April 2012 to handle Robinson’s requests. Through Storrow, he declined an interview and refused to answer specific questions.
The former Olympics boss testified he sent Robinson an emailed statement denying the allegations, and it was her responsibility to ensure the accusers were telling the truth before publishing.
Ken Shields, Canada’s former national basketball coach, testified in Furlong’s defence on Tuesday. He told the court he was “devastated” when Robinson wrote a front-page Globe and Mail article in 1994 that implied he had chosen white players over black players.
“It was just a horrendous experience,” he said, calling it the “low point” of his life. “To have those allegations levelled against me was sickening. Absolutely sickening.”
Shields said the Globe ran a retraction that was “two inches by two inches,” and an independent inquiry found no basis for the allegations. But he added: “It’s never all over.”
He denied Baynham’s suggestion while under cross-examination that Robinson’s article was about systemic racism, pointing out that he was in charge of the national team at the time.
Shields testified that after Robinson’s article about Furlong came out, he called the former Olympics CEO — who he had known for more than two decades — to express his sympathy and offer to testify if he ever got the chance.
“I said to him that I couldn’t even relate to how devastating it must be for him, for John, because the allegations were so much more awful,” said Shields.
Rusty Goepel, a former director of the Vancouver Olympics bid and later the chair of the organizing committee, also testified on Furlong’s behalf.
He said that he received a call from Robinson in spring 2012. She “aggressively questioned” him about what he knew of Furlong’s past and “basically accused him of abusing children,” he said.
Goepel testified that Robinson’s tone was “dramatic” and “heavy,” and that she appeared assured that the allegations against Furlong were fact.
“I hoped the story would go away,” he said. “It was so repugnant and so devastating that I didn’t believe it.”