VANCOUVER - John Furlong, the man who helmed the Vancouver Olympics, has categorically denied allegations that he physically abused aboriginal students as a teacher at two northern B.C. schools decades ago, and says he plans to sue.
The allegations that Furlong hit and kicked students and verbally abused them during his time as a physical education teacher in the late 1960s and early 1970s appeared Thursday in the free Vancouver weekly Georgia Straight.
Within hours, Furlong held a news conference with his lawyer to announce legal action.
In addition, CBC News has reported a former female student went to police with allegations of sexual abuse by Furlong after long-buried memories recently surfaced. Furlong in his statement also denied sexual abuse.
"I categorically deny absolutely any wrongdoing and I believe that the RCMP in looking into this matter will discredit the complaint entirely because it just did not happen," Furlong told reporters.
Furlong said it was "very troubling" to read the article and the "very serious, unfounded allegations" and accused the Ontario-based freelance journalist who wrote the story of showing a shocking lack of diligence.
The reporter, Laura Robinson, said Thursday night she stands behind her work, which was looked over by a lawyer, and she now plans to talk to her legal counsel over the comments Furlong made.
The newspaper story cites eight students whose claims include that he used his foot to slam one of them down on the floor, kicked another in the buttocks, hit one person with a hockey stick and another with a yard stick, and slapped or punched them on the front or the back of the head.
One person suggested he called them "good for nothing Indians," and another said he suffered repeated beatings.
Furlong was a teacher at two Catholic schools in northern B.C., but although he has frequently spoken about his arrival as an immigrant to Canada in 1974, he has not been public about his earlier work at the schools and did not mention his work there in the autobiography released following the 2010 Games.
The former Olympic chief said he is proud of the work he has done with First Nations and his time in the north.
He suggested he didn't include his time at the school in his book, Patriot Hearts, because the book was dedicated to the buildup and execution of the 2010 Winter Games.
Marvin Storrow, Furlong's lawyer, said Furlong's time in the north is well known and he has many existing relationships in the communities in questions.
"Mr. Furlong bears no grudge against anyone, least of all students he coached and worked with, but now has no alternative but to use the courts to seek full and complete recourse for the damage that has been caused to him."
Furlong suggested there is a "personal vendetta" on Robinson's part.
"I don't know where that comes from, but believe me my lawyer will be asking him how he came to that conclusion," Robinson said in an interview Thursday, adding that she doesn't know Furlong.
She said she asked Furlong about the allegations before he made a luncheon speech at a newspaper convention but said he "screamed at me to stop" and walked away.
Robinson said she has been working on the story for several years.
"The Georgia Straight would never have published this story if they didn't lawyer it completely, and I had to show them the physical, you know, paper evidence of everything I said," Robinson said.
"There is no vendetta against anyone. This is about journalism."
The Georgia Straight posted a statement on its website saying Storrow did not make Furlong available to respond to Robinson's questions.
"She also attempted without success to reach Mr. Furlong through his publisher, Douglas & McIntyre. Ms. Robinson was told that Mr. Furlong had 'nothing more' to say to her," the statement said.
Robinson said she has tried to contact Furlong repeatedly and was told by his lawyer that all communication should come through him.
Furlong said that even before the Games began, he had spoken to the RCMP.
"On the very first occasion that this was brought to my attention prior to the Olympic Games, I was advised that for a payment it could be made to go away and, as such, I reported the matter to police," a grim-faced Furlong said at a news conference at which he took no questions because the matter is now a matter for the courts.
RCMP confirmed they are aware of the allegations and are investigating, but would comment no further.
John Furlong's Full Statement
As you are aware I have been accused of physical abuse and apparently within the last hour, sexual abuse. I want you to know I categorically deny absolutely any wrongdoing and I believe that the RCMP in looking into this matter will discredit the complaint entirely because it just did not happen.
Let me just say I am proud of the work I have done and the time I spent in the north and across the country working with First Nations and Aboriginal communities. I have the honor of having two Aboriginal names given to me by Aboriginal groups for accomplishments we achieved together.
I am also proud of the book Patriot Hearts the story of my Olympic journey - my experiences and my personal recollections of those years. I did my best to include elements that contributed directly to the build up and delivery of the Games.
Given my background and experiences working side by side with First Nations leaders and communities, it was very troubling to read the recent article as it deals with very serious, unfounded, allegations that are completely without merit.
Because of the gravity of the situation, I encourage the police to continue to investigate the allegations and especially how they were arrived at.
Further, I am very disappointed, in spite of numerous written cautions, by the reporter’s shocking lack of diligence in researching the article. As a result of inaccurate reporting, I feel that my character has been recklessly challenged and I have no choice now but to proceed with legal action. It is also beyond all belief that The Georgia Straight newspaper did not place a single call to me to validate any of the elements of this story.
Advancing this after more than 40 years, particularly when I have been in the public eye constantly for the past 14 plus years is beyond me. Having experienced this reporter on many occasions in the past this feels very much like a personal vendetta. And finally let me just say on the very first occasion that this was brought to my attention prior to the Olympics I was advised that for a payment it could be made to go away. And as such I reported this to the police.
So why NO mention of Burns Lake in my book? My time in Burns Lake was fairly brief and fairly uneventful. I went back to Ireland and came to Canada years later as a landed immigrant. However, I have friends in Burns Lake and have been there many time since. I have spoken there. I visited the community with a First Nations delegation prior to the Olympics, and brought the Olympic Torch Relay through the Community, ALL without incident.
There is much I could comment and would like to, but as this issue is now with the police and the courts, I am not in a position to provide further remarks.