Former Vancouver Olympic chief John Furlong took to the airwaves Monday night to defend his name after months of letting his lawyers deal with allegations of physical and sexual abuse filed by three former students while he was a volunteer missionary teacher at Catholic schools in Burns Lake and Prince George, B.C. in 1969 and 1970.
He told Global BC television anchor Chris Gailus he’s been living in “hell” since the first allegations surfaced some 13 months ago in an article in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper. “I was stunned and at the time I thought it’ll go away quickly because there’s no truth to this. So I just thought naively that it will just end. It’ll take a few weeks. Instead of ending, it got worse. It became quite horrible.”
In excerpts from the Global interview Furlong said the story “pulverized us. It pulverized me and my family very, very deeply.” He denied claims he physically abused students while he was a gym teacher. Any punishment he meted out used “phys-ed traditional means, like running laps or stuff like that.” Corporal punishment was not allowed and he didn’t use it, he said. “I’ve never had a strap in my hand in my life.”
This July, two former female students at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake filed civil suits in B.C. Supreme Court against Furlong and the Roman Catholic diocese in both Vancouver and Prince George, accusing him of physical and sexual abuse, and the church of failing to protect its students. These have also been denied by Furlong.
None of the claims and counter claims have been tested in court. Furlong produced a letter Monday dating from April in which the RCMP said that after an investigation, police found “nothing to substantiate the complaint” filed by one of the women, Beverly Armstrong. It said police were still planning to speak with others including, presumably, Grace West, the second woman to file suit, as well as an unnamed male, who also filed a lawsuit in September claiming abuse by Furlong.
The RCMP, however, stress the case file remains open. In a statement to Global, RCMP spokesman St. Rob Vermeulen said: “Due to the serious and sensitive nature of the allegations earlier this year we asked for an independent review of our complete investigation by major crime investigators from another province. That review resulted in a number of investigative recommendations that we continue to follow up on. Our file remains open at this time. We also remain mindful that there are multiple civil actions underway as well and as such it would be inappropriate to provide further comment.”
In excerpts from the interview, however, Furlong says the RCMP finding has helped enhance his battered reputation. “I have no grudge against any of those young kids (his former students), but not of this is true. None of it.”
Furlong originally filed suit against Ontario freelance journalist Laura Robinson, who alleged in the September 2012 newspaper article that Furlong had hid his past as a volunteer teacher at the school. She cited allegations by former students of physical abuse and corporal punishment. Robinson continues to stand by her claims and indeed filed a defence that included further allegations against the former Olympic chief of sexual and spousal abuse. These have also been hotly denied by Furlong and several of his family members.
The stories “portray a character whom none of us recognizes,” said a statement by all five of his children, and two ex-wives, Margaret and Gail. “The public should be deeply concerned at the power of a single journalist whose words can smash into a family like a wrecking ball,” they said.
Furlong’s difficult year reached its lowest point in April, when his wife, Deborah Sharp Furlong, was killed in a traffic accident while driving alone when the two were visiting Furlong’s native Ireland.
Furlong has changed his legal tactics. He said he will drop his suit against the Georigia Straight, but he intends to “escalate” his suit against Robinson, the author. Robinson has said she is eager to bring the case to trial. No date has been set for the civil case, which is expected to be one of the most bitterly fought defamation suits in recent memory.