BRITISH COLUMBIA

Journalist was shocked and devastated by Furlong's response to article

06/16/2015 02:36 EDT | Updated 06/16/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - A journalist who is suing former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong for defamation says she was devastated by his response to an article she wrote alleging he abused students at a northern British Columbia school more than 40 years ago.

Laura Robinson began her testimony Tuesday in her civil trial, where she is alleging that Furlong's public comments after the story was published in the Georgia Straight newspaper have damaged her reputation, career and health.

Furlong held a news conference the day the story was published in September 2012, where he absolutely denied any wrongdoing and accused Robinson of "a shocking lack of diligence" and a "personal vendetta."

"I was completely shocked," Robinson testified. "It affected me in a very devastating way that someone would say those things about me."

The Ontario-based journalist said the most shocking part was when Furlong implied she tried to extort money from him. He told reporters at the news conference that before the 2010 Winter Games, he was contacted and told that "for a payment it could be made to go away."

He did not say who contacted him. Furlong's lawyer, John Hunter, told reporters outside a Vancouver courthouse that his client "never" accused Robinson of extortion. He declined to elaborate but said Furlong would testify later.

Robinson told the court that she carefully investigated a tip that Furlong had taught at a residential school at Burns Lake in 1969 and 1970. Her interest was piqued when she read his autobiography, "Patriot Hearts," which omitted that chapter of his life.

She said she and Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith knew it was a "big" story that needed to be handled carefully. At Smith's direction, she obtained sworn affidavits from eight former students who alleged Furlong physically and mentally abused them.

She said Furlong's accusation of a vendetta was "inaccurate and unfair." She gave the former Olympics boss every opportunity to respond through his lawyer and met him just three times before the story's publication, she said.

On one occasion in April 2011, she said she asked Furlong about his time working as a Frontier Catholic Apostle in Burns Lake and Prince George, B.C.

"I couldn't get the whole sentence out because he screamed at me and told me to stop it," she said.

Robinson testified that her freelance income has dropped dramatically since the story was published — from $52,600 in 2011 to $10,700 in 2014. She said she has suffered health problems including stomach cramps that have sent her to the emergency room.

She said she spent more than $150,000 defending herself from Furlong's defamation suit, which he dropped in March after the last of three sexual abuse suits against him was dismissed.

Robinson's suit alleges Furlong defamed her multiple times in the media, including in October 2013 when he alleged that she brought a sexual abuse complaint to the RCMP on behalf of Beverly Abraham, one of the former students in her story.

The Georgia Straight story did not include any sexual abuse allegations although Abraham swore to them in her affidavit. Robinson testified she knew of Abraham's plans to go to the RCMP and file a lawsuit against Furlong but she did not participate.

The woman dropped the lawsuit in 2014 and two other sexual abuse claims were dismissed earlier this year. One of the accusers was found to have attended a different school at the time of the alleged abuse, while another failed to show up in court.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.