Former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong arrives at B.C. Supreme Court after the lunch break during the second week of a defamation case brought against him by journalist Laura Robinson

Former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong arrives at B.C. Supreme Court after the lunch break during the second week of a defamation case brought against him by journalist Laura Robinson

Journalist says Furlong abused over 40 students

Journalist penned letter alleging Furlong abused over 40 former students: court

  • Jun. 24, 2015 7:00 p.m.

By Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

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.

— Follow @gwomand on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maggie Ferguson continues to deliver pet food to communities in B.C’s Central Interior and North. She hopes to make things easier by eventually purchasing a truck and trailer through fundraising efforts. (Perfect Pastures Animal Sanctuary Facebook photo)
From Delta with love, Maggie Ferguson helps northern pet owners with food

Animal sanctuary owner leads efforts in delivering thousands of pounds of pet food

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Williams Lake RCMP are investigating after suspects assaulted two employees at a convenience store and fled with cash and merchandise. (Black Press file photo)
Williams Lake RCMP investigating robbery at local convenience store

The robbery occurred Saturday evening, Feb. 27

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A student from Dawson Creek is the winner of Tolko’s Orange Shirt Day design contest for 2021. (Tolko photo)
Tolko contest features northern winner

Student from Dawson Creek beats out entries Canadawide for Orange Shirt Day design contest win

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility’s COVID-10 outbreak has been declared over by Interior Health. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID outbreak at Vernon’s Noric House declared over

10 deaths were linked to the outbreak at long-term care facility

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Most Read