Journalist Says She Was Shocked at Comments from Vancouver Olympic CEO

By Sunny Dhillon
Globe and Mail
June 16, 2015

It was the day Laura Robinson’s investigation into former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong was published, and the freelance journalist was bombarded with calls and e-mails from other reporters.

One reporter told her Mr. Furlong, the man who led the 2010 Games, was about to hold a news conference to respond to the story.

And what he said at that news conference, a court heard on Tuesday, stunned Ms. Robinson: He accused her of shoddy reporting, said she was on a vendetta and, Ms. Robinson says, even implied she tried to extort him.

“I was completely shocked. It really affected me in a very devastating way that someone would say those things about me,” she testified on the second day of a high-profile civil trial.

Ms. Robinson’s defamation case against Mr. Furlong began this week in B.C. Supreme Court.

Ms. Robinson wrote an article for The Georgia Straight, a weekly newspaper, in September, 2012, in which eight former students of Mr. Furlong’s alleged he physically abused them.

The allegations stemmed from Mr. Furlong’s previously undisclosed time as a physical-education instructor in 1969-70 at Immaculata Roman Catholic Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C.

Mr. Furlong, at his initial news conference, vehemently denied the allegations in the story and criticized Ms. Robinson and The Georgia Straight.

Ms. Robinson began her testimony on Tuesday, and told the court Mr. Furlong had many opportunities to respond to questions from her before the story was published. She said she had lengthy e-mail exchanges with one of his lawyers and approached Mr. Furlong in person on a couple of occasions. In April, 2011, she said he told her to “stop it” and walked away when she asked him about his time in northern B.C.

Ms. Robinson said her story was deeply researched, including trips to Burns Lake, and supported by eight sworn affidavits.

She said it was “unfair and inaccurate” to suggest she was driven by a personal vendetta, testifying she knew next to nothing about Mr. Furlong when she received a tip in 2009.

Ms. Robinson said Mr. Furlong’s reference to extortion was especially shocking.

Mr. Furlong, at his news conference, said he had been told the matter could “go away” in exchange for a payment, although he did not specify who requested that.

Ms. Robinson said Mr. Furlong later accused her of filing an RCMP complaint on behalf of one of her interview subjects. Ms. Robinson testified the woman filed the complaint herself.

Mr. Furlong will testify later in the case.

John Hunter, one of Mr. Furlong’s lawyers, has not had an opportunity to question Ms. Robinson. Outside court, he cautioned against forming any conclusions until all of the evidence is heard.

Mr. Hunter said Mr. Furlong’s defence in the case will be qualified privilege.

“The concept is that there are circumstances in which you’re allowed basically to say what you want about somebody as long as you’re not being malicious. And one of those [circumstances], in our view, in our position, is when you’re responding to an attack. So if someone attacks you, you’re allowed to challenge that,” he said on Tuesday.

Mr. Hunter also denied Mr. Furlong ever suggested Ms. Robinson tried to extort him. “He never suggested that, never suggested that at all,” he said.

Ms. Robinson said defending herself in Mr. Furlong’s lawsuit against her – an action he later dropped – cost $150,000. She did not say how much her case against him has cost.

She said her freelance work and university speaking engagements have dried up since Mr. Furlong’s public comments. She said she earned more than $52,000 in 2011, but was down to about $10,000 last year. She said one magazine told her it would accept articles from her on the Sochi Olympics only if she did not use her name.








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