Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Furlong saga worsens

This time last year, I was in London to cover the 2012 Olympics.

One prominent Canadian was notably absent. John Furlong, the chief executive of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics organizing committee. Furlong would have been wined and dined by at least two prominent people in London. He would have certainly enjoyed watching an Olympics as a fan instead of organizer.

Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee, told me in an interview in Vancouver, after the 2010 Games, that he was speaking multiple times a week with Furlong. Coe constantly sought Furlong's advice on how to organize an Olympics.

Furlong served as VANOC CEO at the pleasure of Gordon Campbell, who was British Columbia's premier from 2001 to 2010. Campbell became Canada's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Canada's diplomatic mission at Trafalgar Square in Central London became Canada Olympic House, a home-away-from-home for Canadian athletes and their families. Campbell hosted many an event there.

Furlong chairs the Own the Podium high-performance sport, fundraising ally of the Canadian Olympic Committee. CEO Anne Merklinger showed up in London, but Furlong didn't.

Before the end of September, we learned that a complaint had been filed with the RCMP before the Olympics. A complainant alleged Furlong committed sexual and physical assault against children while   he was a teenaged missionary at a Catholic elementary school in Burns Lake, B.C. 

On Sept. 27, 2012, the Georgia Straight published journalist Laura Robinson's expose, "John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake."

Furlong rapidly and vehemently denied all the accusations at a news conference. Furlong's "Patriot Hearts" memoir only mentioned arriving in Canada in fall 1974 at Edmonton. It turned out, he was in Burns Lake and later Prince George from 1969 to 1972. At that news conference, he downplayed his early years in northern B.C. as "brief" and "uneventful," but didn't explain why they were omitted from his book.

Two months later, he filed a defamation lawsuit against the Georgia Straight and the author of the expose, Laura Robinson. Robinson and the newspaper filed defence statements containing further damaging allegations. Furlong's public relations agent, not his lawyer, told media on Jan. 22, 2013 that he would be responding with additional court filings in a matter of days and he would eventually be vindicated.

Six months later, Furlong has not filed a rebuttal to the Georgia Straight and Robinson. If he was planning a defence, it most likely was tragically disrupted on April 11 when his third wife, Deborah Sharp, died in a head-on crash on a rural road in Gorey, Ireland, near their house. She was 48. Irish police continue to investigate.

One-hundred and four days after Sharp's death come new allegations in B.C. Supreme Court.

Lawyer Jason Gratl, on behalf of former Furlong students Beverly Abraham and Grace West, sued Furlong, Vancouver's Catholic Archdiocese, Prince George's Catholic Diocese and the Catholic Independent Schools Diocese of Prince George on July 24, 2013. They allege Furlong committed  physical and sexual abuse against them. They are also accusing him of defamation.

Abraham and West's statements of claim are below. Furlong's lawyers John Hunter and Claire Hunter have not responded for comment.

None of the allegations against Furlong has been proven in court.

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