BRITISH COLUMBIA

John Furlong Lashed Out Against Journalist Laura Robinson: Lawyer

06/15/2015 02:58 EDT | Updated 06/15/2016 05:59 EDT
Jonathan Hayward/CP
VANCOUVER - Former Vancouver Olympics boss John Furlong's accusations that freelance journalist Laura Robinson fabricated a story over a personal vendetta have ruined her career, says her lawyer.

Robinson is suing Furlong for comments he made after she wrote a 2012 article carrying allegations from former aboriginal students that Furlong beat and racially taunted them while he was a teacher at a northern British Columbia school more than 40 years ago.

The defamation trial began Monday with her lawyer Bryan Baynham telling a judge that Furlong "lashed out" at Robinson in the media after her story was published in the Georgia Straight newspaper.

"Why did Mr. Furlong defame and attempt to discredit Ms. Robinson? He did it because she reported on aspects of his past that he did his best to keep hidden," Baynham said.

Baynham said Furlong accused Robinson of a lack of diligence and inaccurate reporting, despite repeatedly refusing her requests for comment. Furlong even implied that she had attempted to extort money from him in exchange for not publishing the story, Baynham said.

The former Olympics boss portrayed Robinson as an activist, rather than a professional journalist, who held "open contempt" for Furlong and male authority figures in sports, Baynham said.

Furlong has vehemently denied any allegations of abuse. His lawyer, John Hunter, told reporters outside the courthouse that his client had a right to respond publicly to Robinson's "attacks."

"He's entitled to do that and that's what he did. I don't know how there can be very much doubt he was attacked," said Hunter.

Furlong filed his own defamation suit against Robinson shortly after the article was published. He dropped it in March following the dismissal of the last of three sexual abuse lawsuits that had been launched against him.

While Robinson's original article did not contain allegations of sexual abuse, three people who claimed to be former students of Furlong's later filed lawsuits alleging inappropriate touching.

A judge dismissed a woman's suit in February after finding she attended a different school at the time, while a man's suit was tossed the next month when he failed to show up in court. Another woman dropped her legal action last year.

Baynham told the court that Furlong's decision to drop his defamation claim meant that Robinson's article was true.

He said that Furlong did little to advance his lawsuit in the courts and instead chose to put his client on trial in the "court of public opinion."

"Furlong's strategy of using the media to lambaste Ms. Robinson has increased the damage to her reputation," he said.

She has struggled to find publications willing to publish her stories and her income has dropped substantially, he said.

Baynham said Robinson has devoted her career to giving a voice to marginalized people and that's what she was doing when she investigated the allegations against Furlong.

John Miller, former Ryerson University journalism chairman, testified as an expert witness. He said when journalists begin investigating a story they must be open to the possibility they could be wrong and take steps to avoid collusion between sources.

Miller testified that he believed Robinson had put a note in a local Burns Lake newspaper that said she wanted to interview Furlong's former students.

"She didn't say, 'I want to interview former students about feeling they were abused by Mr. Furlong,'" he said. "In my mind, she took an effort to be open without telegraphing her intention."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

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