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.”