NEWS
06/26/2015 17:09 EDT | Updated 06/26/2016 01:12 EDT

Furlong portrayed journalist as motivated by contempt for male authority: lawyer

VANCOUVER - Former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong defamed journalist Laura Robinson when he publicly portrayed her as heartless, cruel and callous, her lawyer told a B.C. Supreme Court civil trial.However, Furlong's lawyer replied that his client had the right to respond to the woman's "attacks."Closing arguments began Friday at the trial where Robinson is claiming that Furlong damaged her reputation in public comments after she wrote an article that alleged he physically and verbally abused First Nations children about 45 years ago.Robinson's lawyer, Bryan Baynham, said that Furlong's comments showed a "reckless disregard for truth.""Mr. Furlong's entire public-relations campaign was undertaken with the dominant purpose of discrediting Ms. Robinson to address the fact that almost all of what Ms. Robinson reported was true," he said.But Furlong's lawyer John Hunter told the court the article was false and incendiary. He said his client is protected under the defence of qualified privilege — meaning he had a right to respond to public assaults on his character."These are lies. It absolutely didn't happen," Hunter said. "What this case is really about is whether or not when a journalist publishes an article that I say is irresponsible, and is in fundamental ways entirely false, whether the target is entitled to defend himself."Robinson's freelance article published in September 2012 in the Georgia Straight newspaper included affidavits from eight former students who alleged Furlong beat and taunted them while he was a physical education teacher at a Catholic school in northern British Columbia.Baynham said that Robinson carefully investigated the story after noticing discrepancies in Furlong's memoir "Patriot Hearts," which omitted his past work in Burns Lake, B.C., in 1969 and 1970.She sought comment from Furlong four times through his lawyer, who refused to answer specific questions and instead issued a blanket denial and threatened to sue, Baynham told the court.Robinson's lawsuit alleges Furlong defamed her in several public statements after the article was published. She claims he portrayed her as an activist, rather than a professional journalist, who was motivated by contempt for male authority figures.At a news conference the same day the story came out, Furlong said someone had contacted him before the 2010 Winter Games and told him that "for a payment" the story could be made to go away.Baynham said Furlong implied — intentionally or not — that Robinson was linked to an alleged extortion attempt and this was the "most serious" of his defamatory statements.Furlong has denied suggesting that Robinson was involved in the alleged extortion effort, but Baynham accused him of having "no interest in setting the record straight."The lawyer also said Furlong's allegation in a 2013 news release that Robinson had brought a sex abuse complaint to the RCMP on behalf of one of her sources was "absolutely not true."Baynham told the court that qualified privilege does not apply because Furlong was motivated by malice. He said that if the defence was allowed, it would have a chilling effect on investigative journalists.— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.