Journalist penned letter alleging Furlong abused over 40 former students, court told
VANCOUVER — A freelance journalist suing former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong for defamation penned a handwritten letter claiming he had abused more than 40 First Nations’ students at a northern British Columbia school, the trial has heard.
Former 2010 Games spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade told B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday she was “stunned” when Laura Robinson handed her a lengthy note during a chance encounter at a Toronto airport in April 2013. The note alleged Furlong’s actions at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C., had resulted in at least one suicide.
“She invites me to be an off-the-record interview for her,” said Smith-Valade, looking down at a piece of photocopied paper held in her hands. “She said, ‘I’m hoping you will consider this option to go off the record as a way of being a member of the human race.”‘
Smith-Valade said she immediately handed the letter over to Furlong’s lawyers after landing in Vancouver.
Robinson is suing Furlong for defamation based on public comments he made after she published a newspaper article in September 2012.
The article included affidavits from eight former First Nations students and alleged Furlong physically and verbally abused the children while working as a gym teacher at the Roman Catholic school.
Furlong has vehemently denied all allegations of abuse, none of which have been proven in court.
Cpl. Quinton Mackie led the RCMP investigation into allegations of sexual-assault levelled against Furlong by former student Beverly Abraham in July 2012.
He told the trial on Wednesday that Abraham alleged Furlong had “touched her” on three occasions while she was an 11-year-old day student at Immaculata school.
Mackie said that both a lack of evidence and inconsistencies in Abraham’s reports led him to close his investigation in April 2013.
“She was troubled,” Mackie said, responding to a question from Robinson’s lawyer about whether he believed Abraham had been abused. “To this day I believe she has had a very hard life. I don’t know the extent of that.”
The file remained open for another half year while a pair of external police investigators from Alberta reviewed Mackie’s examination alongside another RCMP probe into general complaints police had received about historic cases of general abuse at the school.
Both investigations wrapped up in December without recommending criminal charges.
The former principal of Immaculata Elementary School also testified on Wednesday and defended Furlong’s character.
“My observations were that he treated the children with respect,” said Sister Marie Melling, who worked at the school from 1967 to 1971.
“I found him to be very knowledgeable and also very committed. He ran very good classes.”
Melling said she was not aware of Furlong ever using a strap to discipline children, though she said it would have been allowed at the school at the time.
She said she recalls one complaint about the former physical education teacher. She said a student formally grumbled that Furlong would make his class run uphill backwards.
“I told him, ‘These are children,”‘ Melling said. “I also told him, ‘We are not training them for the Olympics.”‘
Closing arguments are expected to take place on Friday.