John Furlong’s public-relations campaign damaged my earnings and health, journalist Laura Robinson testifies

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      John Furlong sat in the back row as freelance journalist Laura Robinson told a courtroom how she suffered from the “unrelenting attack” unleashed by the former Vancouver Olympics CEO.

      Her earnings dropped and her health weakened, the B.C. Supreme Court heard at the start of Robinson’s testimony in her defamation suit against the prominent figure.

      “We felt that we needed to let the people know that Mr. Furlong had been conducting a campaign of untruths,” Robinson testified today (June 16).

      Based on financial statements read out by Robinson’s lawyer, Bryan Baynham, in court, the writer had an income of more than $23,000 in 2012, including the fee she received from the Georgia Straight for an in-depth article on Furlong in that year.

      In that piece, Robinson wrote about the omissions made by Furlong about his early years in Canada in his autobiography Patriot Hearts.

      While Furlong claimed that he came to Canada in 1974, Robinson determined that he was a teacher at a Catholic school in Burns Lake, B.C., in 1969.

      Robinson’s story also reported on claims that Furlong verbally and physically abused First Nations students he taught.

      Following publication of the story, Furlong questioned Robinson’s credibility as a journalist, issuing news releases and conducting media interviews that are now the subject of the defamation suit against him.

      “This is my life and my personal life as well as my public life, my professional life, that he was attacking,” Robinson testified in court.

      Because of the controversy, Justice Catherine Wedge heard, her earnings from writing and public speaking dried up.

      Based on her financial statements, her earnings decreased from $52,600 in 2011 to about $7,000 in 2013. In that year, she had to withdraw some $5,000 from her retirement funds. That brought her total income in that year to about $12,600.

      Last year, Robinson’s total income was almost $11,000.

      Robinson also testified that the controversy following publication of her story in the Georgia Straight took a “great toll” on her personal health.

      According to her, she was admitted to emergency wards a “number of times”. She started suffering from cramps. The nerves on her feet hurt.

      The court also heard that although Furlong sued Robinson for defamation, the former Vanoc CEO didn’t pursue the case.

      Robinson testified that she spent $150,000 on her defence in that dropped suit, to which her husband committed all of his savings and for which she started a legal defence fund.

      In the meantime, according to Robinson, “He was saying so many defamatory things against me in public.”

      Outside the courtroom, Furlong’s lawyer, John Hunter, declined to comment on the testimony given by the journalist Tuesday morning.

      Instead, Hunter elaborated on the “qualified privilege” defence that Furlong will mount eventually.

      Hunter told reporters: “The concept is that there are circumstances in which you’re allowed basically to say what you want about somebody as long as you’re not being malicious.”

      According to Hunter, qualified privilege provides someone “huge latitude” to say anything when that person is under “attack”.

      Hunter said: “It’s kind of self-defence.”

      When the trial resumed in the afternoon, the court was informed that Robinson started digging into Furlong’s early years in 2009 when she was told by a First Nations artist that Furlong taught at a residential school.

      Her initial research didn’t come up with anything, and so she dropped the subject.

      But Robinson didn’t forget about the “tip”, which she picked up again when she did a review of Furlong’s Patriot Hearts book that was published in 2011.

      As Robinson related in court, more information came in, and in April 2012, she was at Burns Lake taking statements from former students of Furlong at the Catholic-run Immaculata Elementary School.

      She recalled that the people who gave statements about their memories of their experiences with Furlong were “very traumatized”.

      “Some people were crying,” Robinson told the court.

      From Burns Lake, she got in touch with Charlie Smith, editor of the Georgia Straight.

      When Robinson travelled from Burns Lake to Vancouver to meet Smith at the Straight offices, she was told by the editor that affidavits were needed. She said she soon returned to Burns Lake to secure these statutory declarations.

      Robinson’s testimony resumes Wednesday (June 17).

      Comments

      9 Comments

      So...

      Jun 16, 2015 at 4:12pm

      We're suppose to feel sorry for her when she almost ruined his life. She's the one who picked the fight.

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      Barb Justason

      Jun 16, 2015 at 9:32pm

      Ms Robinson is journalist doing her job. John Furlong lied in his book. Ms Robinson exposed the truth, which was an incredibly brave thing to do, given the incredible toll this has taken on her own life.

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      By Gosh

      Jun 16, 2015 at 9:50pm

      Hunter's depicttion of qualified privilege is wrong. You do not get to make inaccurate, defamatory and damaging statements because you believe someone has damaged you. Qualified privilege only applies where there is a duty to fulfill a public interest and at no time in his diatribes was Furlong doing anything other than protecting himself by throwing mud.

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      Well then...

      Jun 17, 2015 at 11:19am

      My question is this: does the GS still stand behind the story?

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      Buddislander

      Jun 17, 2015 at 1:07pm

      This is a David and Goliath story, and David only wins the battle in a book of fantasy.
      Money will take care of Mr. Furlong, that's how it works.

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      ursa minor

      Jun 17, 2015 at 2:42pm

      So.... Reporting on sworn affidavits from former Immaculata students claiming to have been abused by Furlong =/= "picked the fight". Going after the reporter who simply reported on the allegations rather than confronting those who made them = gutless idiot.

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      Martin Dunphy

      Jun 17, 2015 at 5:55pm

      Well then:

      Every word of it.

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      J Wade

      Jun 17, 2015 at 8:58pm

      Laura Robinson comes across in this trial as a woman with class and intelligence. Today Mr. Furlong's lawyer tried to portray her as "obsessive." Would that a few other Canadian writers had been a bit "obsessive" in going after the truth of how native children had been treated in schools run by church people.
      The court has shown her research for her article was indeed thorough and exemplary.

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      Alena Wardell

      Jun 19, 2015 at 10:43pm

      It seems that every single abuser on the planet denies abuse and retaliates against anyone who dares to expose him by way of the smear campaign and recruiting the flying monkeys. *yawn*. They will even deny video tape evidence of themselves being abusive. And they all try to claim that their target is crazy (or obsessive) or whatever*yawn*. How boring and typical for Furlong's lawyer to go on the offensive instead of just letting the facts speak for themselves (resorting to meaningless and subjective labels like obsessive, etc. Does that give us permission to use labels on him such as psychopathic?). Whether or not Furlong did what is alleged to have occurred, his aggressive retaliation is pretty typical of abusers.

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