POLITICS

Can't wait for courtroom to set record straight: Vancouver Olympic chief

10/02/2012 04:46 EDT | Updated 12/02/2012 05:12 EST
VANCOUVER - The man who was at the helm of the Vancouver Olympics says legal action is getting underway against a reporter and newspaper that first printed accusations he physically and verbally abused First Nations students as a volunteer teacher in northern B.C.

But in a statement posted on his website Tuesday, John Furlong said some of the accusations are so serious that his response cannot wait until the case makes its way into a courtroom.

"The past five days have been humiliating and demeaning beyond anything my family and I have ever experienced," Furlong wrote in what he called his final statement on the matter.

"My loved ones in Canada and Ireland have been subjected to scrutiny, sarcasm, disrespect and outrageous invasions of privacy. The story is a disgrace beyond words."

The story printed in the Vancouver weekly Georgia Straight last Thursday cited eight former students who claimed Furlong was abusive as the phys-ed teacher at Immaculata Catholic School in Burns Lake, B.C. The allegations range from hitting the students with a yard stick, to kicking them in the buttocks or slapping or hitting them in the head.

One student said he suffered repeated beatings. Another told CBC News that she recently recovered memories of sexual abuse.

Furlong said Tuesday that he came to Burns Lake in 1969 and spent 14 months volunteering at the school.

"I worked hard to try and be a positive influence, I cared deeply for the students...," he wrote.

He said he and his wife then moved to Prince George, where they continued to volunteer until they returned home by 1972.

"As this time will be discussed at length in court, I can say only that as a volunteer teacher I treated everyone in a fair, appropriate manner and at no time unlawfully or harmfully," Furlong wrote. "I have never denied nor purposefully omitted speaking publicly of this time."

In particular, Furlong addressed the death of his cousin in the 1974 Dublin bombings, an event that he wrote about in his autobiography, Patriot Hearts, as the impetus for his decision to leave Ireland and begin a life in Canada.

In the book, Furlong recounted how his father identified the body of Furlong's cousin "torn asunder," and died of a heart attack less than a month later.

But the article quotes Furlong's cousin, Jim Roice, saying instead his sister was identified by their father — Furlong's uncle. It quotes Furlong's uncle as saying in a story in the Irish Independent newspaper in 2003 that he found her in the morgue, "lying there perfect."

Not so, Furlong said.

"To protect Siobhan's mother (my aunt), her family told her that Siobhan had died quickly with little suffering from a heart attack. I have been reminded again by family in Ireland recently that this is how they have spoken of this tragedy ever since in a caring and continuous show of compassion to help her and the whole family try to heal," Furlong wrote.

"The story I've shared countless times is the true account of a tragedy that shaped my life forever."

Furlong, now the executive chairman of the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer club, characterized the Georgia Straight story as a personal attack against him, and said he is seeking a retraction, full apology and "substantial monetary damages."

The reporter, Laura Robinson, has said she plans a lawsuit of her own over Furlong's comments calling into question her ethics and research.

"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 told The Canadian Press last week.

"There is no vendetta against anyone. This is about journalism.'"