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Furlong sues Georgia Straight writer over article alleging he abused native students

John Furlong of Vancouver, left, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee of the 2010 Winter Olympics, shakes hands with Governor-General David Johnston after he was invested into the Order of Canada in September 2011.

Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Former VANOC chief executive officer John Furlong has taken a battle over his reputation to court, filing a lawsuit that accuses writer Laura Robinson of damaging his character in a September article that included allegations that he abused students at a school in Burns Lake, B.C., in the 1960s.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, says an article by Ms. Robinson published in September in the Vancouver weekly the Georgia Straight has caused "distress and embarrassment" for Mr. Furlong and his family. He also suffered financially because speaking engagements were cancelled after the story appeared, the lawsuit alleges.

The September article included allegations from former students that Mr. Furlong shoved and kicked them and called them derogatory names. The story criticized the way Mr. Furlong had presented his personal history, saying that his 2011 memoir and other accounts mentioned his arrival in Canada in 1974 without referring to an earlier stay in Burns Lake.

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At a press conference the day the story appeared, Mr. Furlong denied the allegations and said he would take legal action. He also called his time in Burns Lake "fairly brief and fairly uneventful," a position reiterated in his lawsuit.

"The description of [Mr. Furlong's] personal history in Patriot Hearts is about the plaintiff's life only as it relates to his role in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics," the lawsuit states, referring to his book published last year. "The plaintiff's volunteer services at the Immaculata School has no part in that story."

According to his suit, Mr. Furlong was a volunteer sports coach and instructor at Immaculata School in Burns Lake for 14 months starting in 1969.

Mr. Furlong moved from Burns Lake to Prince George, B.C., and then back to Ireland before immigrating permanently to Canada, his lawsuit states.

Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith and publisher Daniel McLeod are named as defendants in the case, as is Vancouver Free Press Publishing Corp., which publishes the Vancouver weekly.

Neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. McLeod were immediately available for comment.

In an email on Wednesday, Ms. Robinson said she will meet with her lawyer on Thursday to discuss the matter.

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Mr. Furlong's lawyer declined a request for comment.

The lawsuit says a woman and her lawyer approached Mr. Furlong before the 2010 Olympics with allegations of abuse. He was later told those allegations would "go away" if he paid $5,000, the suit states, adding that Ms. Robinson knew of this incident before her story was published.

After Mr. Furlong's press conference, RCMP in September said they were aware of allegations relating to Mr. Furlong and were investigating them. An RCMP spokesman said on Wednesday an investigation continues.

Mr. Furlong "currently derives a significant portion of his income from speaking engagements and sales of a book entitled Patriot Hearts about his life leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games," the lawsuit states. Patriot Hearts was co-written with Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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