09/10/2013 17:14 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 17:19 EDT

John Furlong Lawsuit: Church Groups' Defences Question Whether Accuser Attended School

The Roman Catholic archdiocese that ran a school where John Furlong taught is denying allegations of abuse in a lawsuit filed by two women. (Canadian Press)
The Roman Catholic archdiocese that ran a school where John Furlong taught is denying allegations of abuse in a lawsuit filed by two women. (Canadian Press)

VANCOUVER — The Roman Catholic diocese that ran a school where former Vancouver Olympic CEO John Furlong once taught is denying allegations of abuse in a lawsuit filed by two women, questioning in a statement of defence whether one of the students even attended the school.

A cloud has hung over Furlong since last fall, when the Georgia Straight, a weekly newspaper based in Vancouver, published a story alleging Furlong physically and verbally abused students while teaching in Burns Lake, B.C., and Prince George, B.C., in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Furlong subsequently launched a libel lawsuit against the Georgia Straight newspaper and the reporter who wrote the piece, condemning the article as a hatchet job and denying he ever abused anyone.

Those allegations were amplified this past July, when Grace West and Beverly Abraham, who identified themselves as former students of Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, filed separate lawsuits against Furlong alleging physical and sexual abuse while they attended the school.

Furlong has yet to file a statement of defence, but in a court document filed in July in the libel case, he uncategorically denied all of the abuse allegations levelled against him, saying "they never occurred."

The women's lawsuit also named the Roman Catholic archdiocese that was in charge of the school, which has since closed.

The Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Prince Rupert — which was incorrectly named in the lawsuit as the Roman Catholic Prince George Diocese — and the Catholic Independent Schools Diocese filed two statements of defence this week in B.C. Supreme Court, denying all of the allegations in the women's lawsuits.

One of the statements of defence also raises doubts about whether West, whose lawsuit said she attended Immaculata Elementary in 1969 and 1970, was ever a student at the school.

"There is no record of the plaintiff (West), or anyone with the birth date of the plaintiff, attending at the school during the time period of 1969 and 1970," says one of the statements of defence.

The diocese acknowledges Abraham was a student at the school.

The statements of defence deny Furlong assaulted anyone, adding that even if he did, the diocese wouldn't be responsible.

"In response to the whole of the notice of civil claim, these defendants deny that Furlong carried out the alleged assaults," the statements both say.

"If Furlong did commit the assaults as alleged, which is not admitted, these defendants are not vicariously liable for the assaults."

None of the allegations in any of the court documents have been tested in court.

The lawyer representing Furlong in the libel lawsuit could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jason Gratl, the lawyer representing the two women who filed the lawsuit, could not be reached to comment on the latest statements of defence or to respond to the assertions that there are no records of West attending the school.

While The Canadian Press has a policy of not naming people who allege they are the victims of sexual assault, Gratl has previously said both women have agreed to have their names published.