Lawyer blasts John Furlong in opening statement of defamation trial
Lawyer Bryan Baynham delivered a withering opening statement at the start of the defamation trial against former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong.
Baynham is representing freelance writer Laura Robinson, who wrote an article in the Georgia Straight three years ago regarding omissions made by Furlong in his published 2011 memoir about his early years in Canada, Patriot Hearts. The story also reported on claims that Furlong verbally and physically abused aboriginal students he taught in 1969 at a Catholic school in Burns Lake in B.C.’s Interior.
As Baynham recounted before the B.C. Supreme Court today (June 15), Furlong went on to accuse Robinson of publishing lies, being an activist, filing a criminal complaint with the RCMP, being contemptuous of male authority figures, and fabricating allegations.
But if Furlong seriously felt that he was defamed by Robinson, Baynham asked, why did he drop his defamation suit against the writer?
“By dropping the suit, Mr. Furlong conceded that Ms. Robinson’s original story was true,” Baynham said in court.
According to the lawyer, Furlong’s “legal right to clear his name died” when he filed a notice of discontinuance in his claim against Robinson on March 31, 2015.
Earlier, in October 2013, Furlong dropped his suit against the Georgia Straight, stating that he would, instead, pursue legal action against Robinson.
Yet when Furlong announced that he was no longer suing Robinson, Baynham said, he repeated his previous assertions that Robinson has a history of writing “offensive and irresponsible” articles.
So, Baynham said, why drop the claim against Robinson? “I’d be interested in hearing Mr. Furlong’s answer to that question,” Baynham said.
Baynham also asked why Furlong said the things that he did about Robinson. “Why did Mr. Furlong defame and attempt to discredit Ms. Robinson?” Baynham asked.
Answering his own question, the lawyer said: “He did it because she reported on aspects of his past, which he did his best to keep hidden, and because she reported on serious allegations about Mr. Furlong made by former First Nations students.”
According to Baynham: “At the heart of this case is a journalist doing her job.”
It’s about a journalist uncovering “serious omissions” in Furlong’s book Patriot Hearts, Baynham said. “This is what investigative journalists do,” he said, noting that they perform a “vital and necessary role in a free, open, and democratic society”.
Baynham also detailed how Robinson first learned about Furlong’s previously untold history in Burns Lake and the several steps she took to investigate the story. “It takes courage, stamina, and determination to be a freelance journalist,” Baynham said.
Talking to reporters outside the court, Furlong’s lawyer, John Hunter, said about Baynham’s opening statement: “I hope it’s clear that that was just an opening. That wasn’t evidence at all.”
“Our position is that Mr. Furlong is entitled to respond to attacks made on him,” Hunter added. The lawyer described that as “qualified privilege” for defence.
Hunter said: “He’s entitled to do that, and that’s what he did.”
SPY vs SPY
Jun 15, 2015 at 7:59pm
I suspect that this is a case of Laura Robinson vs John furlong & Friends.
I was stated in court today that Ms Robinson has had to spend $150,000.00 of her and her husbands own money to defend herself, when John Furlong sued her. He has since dropped the suit against her. WHY?
I strongly suspect that Mr Furlong Legal Bills & Cost and any possible Judgement Against him, are being paid and will be paid by Mr Furlongs Canadian Corporate Olympic Friends.
This suit is all about Corporate Canada warning reporters to cease and desist from ever exposing any type of wrong doings by Corporate Canada's High Profile Executives.
If John Furlong had really wanted to clear his name - he could have sued the Native Canadians who had signed affidavits alleging that he had abused them.
I suspect that the last thing Mr Furlong would ever want, would to be in a court room where these allegations would be closely examined with all the World Watching.
Really, Spy v Spy?
Jun 15, 2015 at 10:33pm
I think you are wrong S v S. First of all, Furlong is a wealthy man who racked in close to 500k a year while working the Olympic gig. I doubt the expenses were a major concern. Secondly I strongly believe that Furlong dropped the suit b/c he had nothing more to gain. The court of public opinion is now on his side. The last thing he should be doing is suing a bunch of poor natives up north.
The think Mrs. Miller is likely suing Furlong to try to fix her reputation as best she can, not b/c Furlong is a guilty man.
Jun 15, 2015 at 10:45pm
Interesting how this article appears much more biased than all others covering this case. Not once (as mentioned in all other articles) does it mention how the abuse allegations were all thrown out, and the points seem cherry picked to discredit Furlong. This article proves the point that journalistic impartiality can be hard to maintain . Firefighters don't fight the flames as effectively when it's in their own fire station.
Jun 15, 2015 at 10:49pm
Sorry Mrs. Robinson, but when your lawyer needs to make such a flamboyant opening statement it usually means your evidence if pretty weak. And so the game begins.....
Jun 16, 2015 at 12:50am
Please get your facts straight. This article is about the opening statement in a scheduled two-week trial for defamation brought by Laura Robinson against John Furlong. No other legal actions have any bearing whatsoever on this one. No cherry picking, just factual reportage of exactly what was said today in court. And the Georgia Straight is not facing any legal action in the matter.
The stories are all there to read to bring you up to speed on the details, if you care to take the time to actually read them.
out at night
Jun 16, 2015 at 10:42am
@ Richard Stern
No sir, the abuse allegations were not all thrown out. Only the three sex abuse allegations that surfaced in the wake of the original article were dismissed or withdrawn. The original article published in the Straight in September 2012 made no mention of sexual abuse. The sworn affidavits referenced in that article were about physical (punching, kicking, throwing objects, etc.) and verbal (racial slurs) abuse. Those allegations were not tested in any court of law as John Furlong dropped his suit against Robinson. Had he carried on with his suit there would have been a great many former students flown in from Burns Lake and other communities to testify. But that won't happen since Furlong withdrew his defamation claims against Ms. Robinson.
The sex abuse allegations must have been extremely difficult for Mr. Furlong. There can be no doubt that anyone accused of such crimes is placed in a terrible situation. Having said that, he did manage to turn the unraveling of those claims into a handy smokescreen. His self-proclaimed "innocence and exoneration" as the last of the three sex abuse claims came apart was a shameful display of bait and switch media manipulation. More shameful was the mainstream media's complicity in this charade. They sure fooled a lot of people (including you, obviously), into thinking that three sex abuse claims are somehow the same thing as over 40 (yes, that's how many came forward eventually) physical and verbal abuse claims. They are not the same thing. Never were and never will be.
Jun 16, 2015 at 1:30pm
Richard Stern was probably cheering when the Fiberals tried to shut down The Straight by changing the paper's tax code status a few years ago.
Jun 16, 2015 at 2:56pm
The attack dogs above are ravenous, but your thumbs up/down count tells the true picture of how many of us agree.
starting to make sense...
Jun 16, 2015 at 3:24pm
@ursa is that why you and @outatnight are so bitter? all you two ever comment about are bait-and-switch tactics / Fiberals etc. why not just come out of the NDP closet already?
Jun 16, 2015 at 3:29pm
Furlong's argument about qualified privilege is bizarre - he wasn't speaking in any official capacity when he slagged Robinson. Qualified privilege is usually used to protect people such as municipal council members when they speak in council about issues and people, it isn't usually used to allow general slagging of individuals is some sort of ostensible self defence. I hope he has to pay megabucks for what seem to be some pretty inaccurate statements - eg the alleged personal vendetta, the alleged comments about sexual abuse which the journalist never made etc etc etc he is wealthy and arrogant time to pay and also time to apologize and let LR get on with her life.