POLITICS

Journalist wanted to 'bring down' ex-Olympics CEO John Furlong: B.C. lawyer

06/17/2015 03:31 EDT | Updated 06/17/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - A freelance journalist embarked on a campaign to discredit former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong because she was critical of male authority figures, his lawyer says.

In a heated exchange, John Hunter accused Laura Robinson of presuming that Furlong was guilty of beating and taunting First Nations' students at a Roman Catholic school in northern British Columbia.

"Your whole intention here was to bring down Mr. Furlong, wasn't it?" Hunter asked in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday.

"He was one of those male authority figures you like to criticize and you thought you had the goods on him, didn't you?"

"That's incorrect," said Robinson, who is suing Furlong for defamation over public comments he made after she wrote a newspaper article about the allegations against him.

The September 2012 story published in the Georgia Straight included sworn affidavits from eight former students who said Furlong abused them while he was a physical education teacher in Burns Lake, B.C., in 1969 and 1970.

Emails read out in court showed an earlier draft of Robinson's story included an allegation of sexual abuse that was cut out by the Straight and the Toronto Star, which later chose not to run the story.

The court heard that the journalist sent the 4,500-word draft to multiple outlets, including First Nations' newspaper Anishinabek News, which cut it down to a six-paragraph article that it published a day after the Straight.

The brief article included a statement that one former student of Furlong had gone to the Burns Lake RCMP with an allegation of sexual abuse.

Hunter called it a "scurrilous" and "unfounded" accusation that Robinson was eager to publish.

But the Ontario-based journalist said the statement was true — RCMP were investigating a complaint made by a former student — and added it is the job of editors to decide what to include.

Hunter said RCMP found no evidence to support the woman's allegation. Beverly Abraham dropped her lawsuit in 2014, while two other sex abuse claims were dismissed this year.

The lawyer grilled Robinson about a notice she circulated in Burns Lake that said she was looking for former Immaculata School students who were abused by Furlong.

"Are you not aware that this is the worst way to go about doing those interviews?" Hunter said. "Why did you identify the target of your investigation?"

Robinson replied that there were often multiple abusers at residential schools and she wanted to make it clear who she was asking about.

Hunter also said she was an hour late to a meeting in the Burns Lake band office, where 35 people showed up, and he questioned whether this raised the danger of collusion.

"I don't know what they said to each other in advance," she replied. "My experience with them, and many, many other survivors of abuse is that they don't talk about it. It's not casual conversation unless it's in a trusted environment."

While Robinson was pursuing the story in 2012, she sent emails outlining the abuse allegations, with sworn affidavits attached, to the Canadian Olympic Committee and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Hunter accused Robinson of trying to tarnish Furlong's reputation, but she testified she wanted to know whether the committee and the city had done their due diligence before Furlong was appointed Olympics boss.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.