Defamation Trial between John Furlong and Journalist Opens in Court

By Gordon Hoekstra
Vancouver Sun
June 15, 2015

A lawyer for a freelance journalist says accusations by former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong that his client was an activist rather than a professional journalist ruined her career.

The much-anticipated defamation trial between freelance journalist Laura Robinson and former 2010 Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong is shaping up to be fought over whether Robinson carried out her job to acceptable journalistic standards.

Robinson, slated to testify today, is suing Furlong for damaging her reputation in statements he made in 2012 and 2013, at a news conference, in interviews and in statements written to rebut an article she wrote in the Georgia Straight three years ago.

Earlier, Furlong dropped his defamation suit against Robinson over her article, which said Furlong had verbally and physically abused aboriginal students in the ’70s at a Catholic elementary school in Burns Lake in north-central B.C. It also detailed omissions on when he moved to Canada in his biographical 2011 book, Patriot Hearts.

Furlong, who attended court Monday, has said the allegations from the former students are not true.

The opening day of testimony Monday hinged on how Robinson carried out her job, with her lawyer Bryan Baynham introducing a report from former Ryerson University head of journalism John Miller that concluded she did her investigative job to acceptable standards.

Miller was qualified as an expert on investigative journalism after having part of his report extracted because B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge ruled portions were prejudicial. The judge also made it clear she would determine to what extent his opinion would hold weight.

In cross-examination on Miller’s qualifications, Furlong’s lawyer, John Hunter, raised issues of the importance of investigative journalists being open to the possibility that a hypothesis is wrong and the importance of how to conduct interviews with abuse victims.

Miller acknowledged those were important issues.

Furlong had characterized Robinson’s reporting as a vendetta, said it lacked diligence and was inaccurate, Baynham outlined in his opening argument.

He said Furlong had also publicly said Robinson had contempt for the Olympics and male authorities in sport, had filed a police complaint on behalf of one of the aboriginal students and accused her of being an activist and not a journalist.

“At the heart of this case is a journalist doing her job,” said Baynham, noting her suit had implications for the ability of investigative journalists to pursue their jobs.

He outlined that Robinson had done investigation and research for the story, including travelling to Burns Lake and Ireland.

Robinson also made repeated requests for interviews of Furlong and the answers to questions through his lawyer, which were rebuffed, said Baynham.

At the same time, the allegations of the students were denied by the lawyer and sometimes legal action was threatened, he said.

Robinson has suffered emotional, physical and financial damages from Furlong’s statements, which were disseminated in more than 100 news stories, argued Baynham.

He said that Robinson had already racked up $150,000 in legal fees defending herself, including in the original defamation suit against her.

It was a suit, Baynham argued, that was never intended to go to court but to provide a platform to launch a media fight to defend Furlong’s reputation.

However, Hunter, Furlong’s lawyer, said outside court there is another side to the story which will be outlined in court as well.

“I hope it’s clear that was just an opening — it was not evidence at all,” said Hunter. “Our position will be that there are quite a lot of other facts that were not included in the opening.”

The crux of Furlong’s defence is that he was entitled to respond to “attacks” under the rule of qualified privilege, noted Hunter.

Furlong has also said Robinson’s article has brought damage and harm to him and his family.

Baynham, Robinson’s lawyer, noted that she had interest from the CBC and the Toronto Star in jointly publishing her piece, but they decided not to publish.

The article — entitled John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake — was published in the Georgia Straight on Sept. 26, 2012.









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