Releasing abuse info about Furlong in advance was a mistake, UBC prof says
Freelance journalist Laura Robinson should not have directly mentioned former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong and the word “abuse” when she posted a notice looking for people to interview, an expert on conducting historical child sex-abuse investigations testified on Thursday.
John Yuille was the final witness in a B.C. Supreme Court defamation case. Ms. Robinson has sued Mr. Furlong over his response to a story she wrote in September, 2012. Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday.
Dr. Yuille, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia, told the court an investigator should not reveal who or what behaviour is being investigated.
“This is central, detailed information and it must come from the witness, not from the investigator. As soon as the investigator supplies the identity, the time frame, the location, the allegation that there’s abuse, this makes it no longer possible for that information to come spontaneously from the witnesses,” he said.
Ms. Robinson has testified she posted a notice in a Burns Lake Indian Band newsletter. The notice said she would be in the northern B.C. community in April, 2012, and was “investigating abuse” at Immaculata Roman Catholic Elementary School and Prince George College. Mr. Furlong worked at both schools. The notice said Ms. Robinson was “interested in students who attended between 1969 and 1976 and had John Furlong as a phys-ed teacher.”
Dr. Yuille said it was a mistake to release information about the alleged abuse in advance, and “bad procedure” to allow the witnesses to spend an hour together in a room before Ms. Robinson arrived.
“If both of those circumstances occurred, do you have an opinion as to the reliability of the information that would be obtained?” Mr. Furlong’s lawyer, John Hunter, asked.
“Very suspect,” Dr. Yuille replied.
Daniel Reid, one of Ms. Robinson’s lawyers, asked Dr. Yuille if he had ever worked as a journalist, taught journalism, or reviewed ethical guidelines for journalists. Dr. Yuille said he had not. He said he conducts investigatory workshops for police officers and social workers.
Mr. Reid also questioned Dr. Yuille about a study he had earlier referenced on false memory. In the study, participants were told they had committed a crime when they were younger, an assertion their parents confirmed. The participants were asked in three separate sessions to visualize the incident and provide details. Dr. Yuille said most participants came up with what they thought were memories of a crime they, in fact, had not committed.
“Dr. Yuille, can you tell me how many people of these study participants remembered committing a crime after the first of these three sessions?” Mr. Reid asked.
“My memory is that it was low,” Dr. Yuille replied.
“Dr. Yuille, I’ll put to you that it was zero. Do you agree with that?” Mr. Reid responded.
“Yes,” Dr. Yuille said.
Mr. Reid went on to ask Dr. Yuille how Ms. Robinson should have worded her notice and whether he would have preferred she say something vague, such as that she was “looking into events that occurred in a place between the ’60s and the ’70s.”
Dr. Yuille said Ms. Robinson could have used “more open-ended, non-biased, non-leading” statements.
“I’m not a journalist, I don’t set journalistic standards. This is bad investigation, that I know,” he said.
Mr. Furlong’s counsel wrapped its case after Dr. Yuille’s testimony. Ms. Robinson’s counsel called its witnesses last week.
The story by Ms. Robinson at the heart of the case was published in the weekly newspaper Georgia Straight. It accused Mr. Furlong of physically abusing students when he was a teacher at Immaculata in 1969-70. Ms. Robinson also wrote a piece published in the Anishinabek News that mentioned a sex-abuse complaint that had been filed with the RCMP.
Ms. Robinson testified she was shocked when Mr. Furlong responded to her work by accusing her of shoddy reporting and saying she had a vendetta. She has also alleged Mr. Furlong implied she tried to extort him. She has said her story was deeply researched, pointing to the fact she had eight sworn affidavits.
Mr. Hunter has said Mr. Furlong was entitled to respond to the “attack” against him under the defence of qualified privilege. Mr. Furlong has denied he accused Ms. Robinson of extortion, testifying he was referring to someone else.
Police investigations into the physical and sexual abuse allegations concluded without charges.