Newsmaker of the day: John Furlong and his nightmare years

The former CEO and guiding force behind Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics has cleared his name in court—but the fight's not over yet.

(Photograph by Jennifer Roberts)

(Photograph by Jennifer Roberts)

John Furlong says his nightmare is over.

The former CEO and guiding force behind Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics appeared before the media today to declare that “truth and innocence” have finally prevailed in his two-year battle to clear his name. On Monday, a British Columbia Supreme Court Justice dismissed the third and final civil lawsuit brought against him over allegations that he physically and sexually assaulted Aboriginal students during his time as a teacher at a Church-run mission school in Burns Lake, B.C. in 1969 and 1970. The 64-year-old had previously been cleared by the RCMP.

Calling the suits “false, horrible, hurtful and highly damaging,” Furlong said they have inflicted unimaginable pain upon him and his family. “I have been numb for months trying my best to cope and protect those I love. Living like this is not living,” he said, reading from a prepared statement during a brief turn before the cameras at his lawyers’ downtown Vancouver offices. “I have fought every instinct to be angry. I am not angry but I am very disappointed in these three individuals.”

Furlong said that the end of the civil actions—two of the plaintiffs were found to have been attending different schools at the time they alleged he was their teacher—means that he can now move on. “Canadians now know what took place and what is true. I believe, like me, they will feel a sense of outrage over the injustice and the methods used.” And to that end, he announced the abandonment of his own legal action against Laura Robinson, the Ontario-based freelance journalist who first brought the abuse allegations to light in a September 2012 article published in the Georgia Straight. (He dropped his claim against the alternative weekly paper and its editors more than a year ago.)

Furlong said he wishes to “leave this ugliness behind,” reconnect with friends, and rebuild what had been a lucrative post-Olympics career as a motivational speaker and member of several high-profile corporate boards. However, it seems unlikely that his wishes will be fulfilled—at least in the short term. Robinson brought her own counter-suit for defamation over Furlong’s repeated contention that she has played fast and loose with the truth in this matter and with other stories over the course of her career. And that trial is scheduled to begin June 15.

In a series of email messages to Maclean’s, Robinson said that she has every intention of carrying on the fight. “My suit is about an attack on my integrity and professional conduct as a journalist. It has never been about these three cases,” she wrote. At the time her Straight article appeared, Robinson said she had only interviewed one of the three people who ended up launching civil actions.  “My story was based on serious allegations made by numerous individuals, including allegations contained in eight sworn affidavits, and I stand by the work I did,” she wrote. “I feel that the dropping of Mr. Furlong’s lawsuit against me today is recognition that my reporting on the serious allegations was responsible and appropriate.”

In his statement to the press, Furlong also seemed resigned to further battles with the crusading journalist. And he again took the opportunity to attack her work. “Laura Robinson has a history of writing offensive and irresponsible articles that hurt people,” he said. “The court, the public and responsible media deserve to hear about the questionable techniques and approaches that form her brand of journalism.”

Whatever the outcome, the case will surely result in more damage to both their reputations. In previous legal filings, Robinson and her lawyers have accused Furlong of incidences of physical and sexual abuse against two of his former domestic partners as well. The former VANOC head has denied those allegations, and so has one of the women he supposedly victimized. The remaining woman’s claims have not been tested in court.

Furlong, who looks wan and frail these days, has clearly suffered since this all began. His third wife Deborah Sharp Furlong was killed in a car crash while they were visiting his native Ireland in April 2013. And he has spoken openly about his struggles with depression. His children, step-kids and grandchildren have also felt the sting of the suspicion that has enveloped him.

With the end of the civil suits, what Furlong terms as the “darkest period of my life” may well be coming to an end. But it clearly isn’t over. If he thinks otherwise, he’s dreaming.