POLITICS

Furlong refutes implying journalist attempted extortion before Olympics

06/22/2015 02:27 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - The former Vancouver Olympics boss has testified he was told allegations he physically abused a former student decades earlier could be made to "go away" for a payment of $5,000 — but he denied ever insinuating a freelance journalist was complicit in the extortion.

John Furlong told a civil court trial he holds Laura Robinson accountable for making his life "unbearable," which included circumstances relating to the accidental death of his wife in a car crash in Ireland.

But he said he never suggested Robinson was involved in an extortion attempt that came just months before the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"That stunned me. It was a shocking moment. I sat at my desk and I wondered, is this about embarrassing me or embarrassing the Olympics?" Furlong told B.C. Supreme Court on Monday, revealing details of a secretive meeting publicly for the first time.

Furlong was testifying in his defence as Robinson seeks damages for defamation over comments Furlong made after the journalist wrote two articles carrying allegations about him.

The stories reported allegations of abuse stemming from Furlong's position teaching physical education at a Roman Catholic school that was mostly attended by First Nations students in British Columbia's Interior.

Some of the defamation allegations arise from comments Furlong made during a news conference in late September 2012 that included his reference to the extortion attempt.

Under cross-examination, Robinson's lawyer put it to Furlong that his statement implied Robinson was colluding with his accusers to take payment to kill the story.

"I never said that and I wouldn't say it and here's the reason I wouldn't say it — I didn't believe it to be true," Furlong replied.

Furlong testified what really happened involved a former Olympics staff member, who approached him in the latter part of 2009 saying he had met someone claiming Furlong struck her. He was offered a deal to pay $5,000.

Furlong said he immediately phoned the Games' chief of integrated security, who urged him to report the incident to Vancouver Police. But in addition, he said another high-ranking Olympics official, Dan Doyle, arranged a meeting with the woman at a Vancouver home.

"I certainly don't remember anything about her. I certainly don't remember ever strapping anybody, because we weren't allowed, and if there was going to be strapping it was going to be the principal. And I had never even seen that," he said.

"The one interesting thing that occurred at the meeting was that Dan Doyle asked, 'Are you suggesting some sort of sexual thing?'

"She said, 'Oh no, nothing like that.' The meeting concluded and we shook hands."

Robinson's main story, published in the Georgia Straight newspaper, included affidavits from eight former students during Furlong's time at Immaculata School in Burns Lake, B.C.

Furlong said he recalled the volunteer stint between 1969-70 as "absolutely fantastic," and the place where he met his wife.

"It was a very happy place. I enjoyed every minute and when I left, I thought for the rest of my life this would be just a warm memory for me."

Instead, he said that waking up to learn allegations against him were spreading around the world was the "worst morning of my life." He said his wife was killed when the couple later travelled to Ireland to escape the negative attention.

Furlong's lawyer is arguing his client was legally entitled to respond to the "sustained and unrelenting attack" on his character, starting in the spring of 2012.

John Hunter told the trial that Robinson used her position as a journalist, and the privilege of the courts, to make untrue allegations.

Last week, the Ontario-based journalist testified that Furlong's public comments have damaged her reputation, career and health.

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