VANCOUVER - John Furlong, whose reputation as the face of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics was tarnished earlier this year by decades-old allegations of abuse at a school in northern British Columbia, has filed a lawsuit targeting the weekly newspaper that first published the claims, a spokeswoman says.
Furlong's lawyers filed a statement of claim Tuesday targeting the owner of the Georgia Straight newspaper, reporter Laura Robinson, publisher Daniel McLeod and editor Charlie Smith, according to an emailed statement from Furlong spokeswoman Catherine Locke.
The free, weekly newspaper published a story on Sept. 27 that quoted eight former students who claimed Furlong hit, kicked and verbally abused them and other students during his time as a physical education teacher in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Within hours, Furlong held a news conference with his lawyer to announce legal action and deny he abused anyone. He was also forced to deny a news report published by the CBC, which quoted a former female student who said she had recently recovered memories of sexual abuse.
Furlong accused Robinson of having a vendetta against him and claimed she did not attempt to contact him to hear his side.
The Georgia Straight responded then by defending the story. Robinson said she attempted to contact Furlong repeatedly and she threatened her own lawsuit over Furlong's claims to the contrary, though she has not yet filed any legal action.
Furlong's statement of claim was not yet available from the B.C. Supreme Court registry late Tuesday afternoon and his lawyers declined to provide a copy. The statement said Furlong would not be commenting now that the case was before the court.
The defendants named in the lawsuit did not return calls seeking comment, nor did a lawyer who provided the Georgia Straight with written affidavits that were used in the original article.
The allegations involved Furlong's time as a volunteer teacher at Immaculata Catholic School in Burns Lake, a remote northern community located about 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver.
Immaculata was a religious school run by the Oblates, a missionary order, but it was not an Indian residential school. Students, including non-natives, attended by day.
The allegations published in the Georgia Straight article ranged 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, while another suggested Furlong called them "good for nothing Indians."
The Georgia Straight also accused Furlong of fudging his biography — notably when it comes to his arrival in Canada. Furlong has frequently told the story of his arrival as an immigrant in 1974, but had not publicly talked about his earlier work in Burns Lake.
Furlong denied every allegation, both at his news conference and in a subsequent written statement.
He said he never abused his students, but instead "treated everyone in a fair, appropriate manner and at no time unlawfully or harmfully."
Furlong also claimed someone approached him before the 2010 Winter Olympics, telling him he could make the allegations go away for a payment. He said he reported the incident at the time to the RCMP
The RCMP confirmed in September that they have launched an investigating related to the case, but have not detailed exactly which claims they are looking into.
Furlong said he never hid or purposely omitted speaking about his time in Burns Lake. Rather, he said his stint in the community wasn't in his biography because it was brief and uneventful.
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