John Furlong claims he didn’t hide Christian missionary past under cross-examination at defamation trial
John Furlong has admitted in the witness stand that he arrived in Canada as a landed immigrant from Ireland in 1975—not in 1974 as he wrote in his autobiography and told in stories about his life.
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The former Vancouver Olympics CEO made the admission upon the resumption today (June 23) of his cross-examination by the lawyer of a freelance journalist who is suing him for defamation.
Bryan Baynham, who is representing plaintiff Laura Robinson, began by asking about the name of the “famous customs agent” in Edmonton who supposedly stamped Furlong’s passport, welcoming him to Canada with a call to make the country “better”.
Furlong couldn’t remember who the officer was. Besides, according to him, there was a point he was trying to make with the story that he told in his 2011 book Patriot Hearts.
“The point about that story isn’t about his name. It’s about the message,” he said in B.C. Supreme Court.
That message was about the responsibility of all Canadians to their country, and Baynham said that he knew about that, but there was the question of when Furlong actually arrived.
Baynham reminded Furlong that in Patriot Hearts, he wrote that he came over in 1974.
“The date is irrelevant,” Furlong responded.
Baynham pressed on, stating that it is clear that Furlong didn’t come to Canada as an immigrant until 1975.
Furlong answered: “I’ll give you this. I won’t say it was 1974.”
Baynham followed up, causing a bit of laughter among the audience in the court gallery.
“I say it was sometime then,” Furlong replied. “I don’t know the date in 1975. I really don’t. I wish I did.”
Baynham moved on, noting that there is a photo in an Irish newspaper in February 1975 showing Furlong with Ireland’s national women’s basketball team.
“You were in Ireland in 1975,” Baynham told Furlong.
“Yes,” Furlong admitted.
Furlong has received many accolades, including those from media outlets, because of his role in heading up the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
These included being named “Canada’s Nation Builder of 2010” by the Globe and Mail.
An article published in December of that year by the Globe about the newspaper’s choice of Furlong for the recognition states: “The story is one John Furlong never tires of telling. The day he landed in Edmonton in 1974 to begin his new life, an unassuming immigration officer welcomed him with the words: ‘Make us better.’ ”
At another point in Furlong’s cross-examination, Baynham accused him of not telling anyone at the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Vancouver organizing committee for the 2010 Olympics that he actually first came to Canada much earlier in 1969 as a Christian missionary.
Robinson wrote about Furlong’s previously undisclosed history as an Oblate Frontier Apostle in a story published by the Georgia Straight in September 2012. The story also reported on eight sworn affidavits by former students of Furlong at the Immaculata Elementary School, alleging that he taunted, bullied, and hurt First Nations students.
Addressing Furlong, Baynham said that nobody among Olympics officials knew about Furlong’s past as a missionary.
“You’re dead wrong,” Furlong countered, saying “lots of people at Vanoc” knew that he was once in Burns Lake, B.C., where he taught physical education to school children as part of his missionary work.
Furlong maintained: “It was well known.”
After the Straight article came out, Furlong sued the Straight and Robinson for defamation, but he eventually discontinued his legal action.
Robinson counter-sued Furlong for various public statements he made questioning her competence and honesty as a journalist.
The trial of Robinson’s defamation suit started on June 15.
Talking to reporters after the trial wrapped up for the day, Furlong said that he was “glad” his cross-examination was over.
According to Furlong, it was “important” for him to clarify issues in court in the presence of his children.
Furlong acknowledged: “It was a difficult, challenging day.”
Furlong’s defence team also called two witnesses, Ken Shields, a former coach of the Canadian national basketball team, and Rusty Goepel, who chaired the Vanoc hiring committee.
Shields was a subject of a 1994 article by Robinson regarding alleged systemic racism in the selection of the national basketball team. (The Globe later retracted the charges of racism and settled a libel lawsuit with Shields.)
He told the court that he was “devastated” by the article, and that he contacted Furlong after Robinson’s article in the Straight was published in 2012.
Shields also testified that he has known Furlong for a long time.
Goepel, who was quoted in the Straight article by Robinson, told the court that he didn’t believe accusations that Furlong abused school children.