VANCOUVER – A freelance journalist who wrote an article alleging former Vancouver Olympic CEO John Furlong verbally and physically abused British Columbia students in the 1960s and ’70s asked a judge Monday to force Furlong to put up $100,000 to prove he can pay legal costs if he loses.
The procedural application, which relied on a rarely used section of law that has only been used twice in more than a century, largely focused instead on what Robinson’s lawyer described as the “bitter” feud between the pair.
Laura Robinson wrote an article for the Georgia Straight newspaper published in September 2012, quoting several people who claimed to have been taught by Furlong in Burns Lake, B.C., and Prince George, B.C., in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The former students were quoted alleging Furlong verbally and physically abused them.
Furlong immediately denied any wrongdoing and subsequently sued Robinson and the newspaper for libel. He recently dropped the Georgia Straight as a defendant and has promised to “escalate” his legal action against the reporter.
Robinson’s lawyer argued Furlong should be forced to put up the $100,000 security because he has not demonstrated he could pay her legal costs if he eventually loses the case. Furlong’s lawyer, in turn, argued Robinson had failed to satisfy the criteria for such an order, set out in a 122-year-old provision of B.C.’s defamation law.
The judge is expected to rule on the application on Tuesday morning.
Among the criteria for such an order is that the defendant acted in “good faith.” Furlong’s lawyer, John Hunter, argued Robinson did not.
“Mr. Furlong has been severely defamed, everyone in British Columbia knows that,” Hunter told the court.
“Mr. Furlong is of the view that this was all done in bad faith. It was all done maliciously.”
Furlong revealed he was dropping the newspaper from the lawsuit during a series of media interviews in late October, though he didn’t fully explain why he was no longer targeting the newspaper.
On Monday, Hunter suggested the Straight was dropped because the newspaper could likely rely on a relatively new defence known as responsible communication, in which defendants can fend off defamation allegations if they can prove they acted responsibly and satisfied a list of criteria. The Supreme Court of Canada has said the defence is not open to defendants who acted maliciously.
“With respect to the Georgia Straight, one could see how that could be a legitimate defence — they only published this one article,” said Hunter.
“But with Ms. Robinson, there is a pattern of harassment that fully supports Mr. Furlong’s view that she’s engaging in a vendetta against him.”
Hunter noted Robinson has included more explosive allegations, including abuse involving former wives, in her court filings. He categorized those new allegations as an abuse of the court system, since the contents of court documents are considered privileged and immune from libel lawsuits.
None of the allegations against either Furlong or Robinson have been proven in court.
Robinson’s lawyer, Jeremy Shragge, suggested Robinson will primarily rely on the defence of responsible communication, though she also plans to argue other defences, such as fair comment
“It is the responsible journalism defence that I think is quite possibly the strongest,” he said.
“This was an article that she published after six months of research, dozens of interviews.”
Shragge said Robinson doesn’t intend to argue in her defence that the allegations contained in the original article were actually true, telling the court: “I don’t understand Ms. Robinson to have pled truth.”
However, Robinson’s statement of defence argues she was justified in publishing the article because the allegations were “true in substance and in fact.”
Shragge did not explain the apparent discrepancy on Monday.
It’s not clear when the case could make it to trial. Robinson’s lawyers have suggested Furlong is stalling the case, accusing him of not taking any meaningful steps to bring it to trial.
Shragge told the court the case would likely require a jury trial that could take as long as 20 days.