Sparks flew on the fourth day of the trial of a defamation suit against former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong.
“How did you expect him to react?” Furlong’s lawyer, John Hunter, asked Laura Robinson, who wrote an in-depth article about the prominent figure’s untold early years in Canada and alleged abuses he committed against First Nations students at an elementary school.
“You expected him to send you flowers?” Hunter said, pressing on with his cross-examination today (June 18) of Robinson, who sued Furlong for allegedly impugning her integrity as a journalist following publication of her article in the Georgia Straight in 2012.
“I expected him not to lie,” Robinson responded.
Hunter reminded her that she had been told by Furlong’s camp that if her article was printed, she would be sued.
Following the publication of her story in the Straight on September 27, 2012, Furlong did sue Robinson and the newspaper. He eventually discontinued the lawsuits.
In his cross-examination, Hunter also outlined before B.C. Supreme Court justice Catherine Wedge how he is defending Furlong against Robinson’s defamation suit.
In previous days, Hunter had told media that he would employ “qualified privilege” as a defense.
“If someone is going to be attacked in the press…they ought to be able to respond to defend their reputation, shouldn’t they?” Hunter asked Robinson.
The writer responded: “They have the right to respond and then the person they’re speaking of has the right to respond to their response.”
At one point during the trial, Hunter told Justice Wedge that his client suffered “sustained, continuous, unremitting” attacks from Robinson in 2012 and 2013.
According to the lawyer, Robinson contacted “professional colleagues” of Furlong and continued to make allegations of abuse.
“That’s the position of the case,” Hunter said. “That’s what I want to do. I have a lot of material to that effect.”
At the start of his cross-examination, Hunter accused Robinson of “orchestrating” the timing of the publication of her article in the Straight as well as in an Ontario First Nations paper, the Anishinabek News.
“I wasn’t orchestrating anything,” Robinson replied.
Hunter was going through emails exchanged at that time between Robinson and the Anishinabek News indicating that she asked the Native publication not to post online an abridged version of her piece until after the Straight’s piece had gone online.
The Straight’s story contained allegations of racial taunting and physical abuses but made no mention of any claims of sexual abuse. The shorter piece that appeared in the Anishinabek News reported a certain “Anne” who had gone to the RCMP to complain that she was sexually molested by Furlong.
As part of his cross-examination, Hunter also suggested that Robinson was talking to a “vulnerable” community when she went to Burns Lake, B.C., in April 2012 to interview former students of Furlong.
According to Hunter, the Immaculata Elementary School and the former high school called Prince George College were not considered Native residential schools. As such, former students of those schools are not entitled to compensation even though they suffered abuse like those who attended residential schools.
“Did you have any concern that you might hear from people who felt that because of abuse they had suffered in any context, they ought to have compensation…?” Hunter asked.
Robinson replied that she doesn’t believe that people will lie to her just because there might be a chance that they could get compensation.
“Really?” Hunter responded.
Furlong’s lawyer went on to suggest that Robinson may not have gotten reliable information. The journalist replied that she felt that the people she interviewed were speaking “honestly” to her.
When she first took the stand on Tuesday (June 16), Robinson testified that Furlong’s attacks against her affected her personal life, health, and finances.
The court heard on that day that in 2014 her earnings dropped to about $11,000, from a high in 2011 of more than $52,000, an amount that included a court settlement.
Furlong’s lawyer today provided details of Robinson’s financial standing in previous years, noting for example that in 2010, she had a negative income because of expenses even though she earned about $15,000 in fees plus about $800 more. In 2009, according to Hunter, Robinson had a negative income of $24.