The northern B.C. town of Burns Lake may not have gotten a mention in John Furlong’s autobiographical book, but according to the former Vancouver Olympics CEO, it’s a special place for him.
“My time in Burns Lake is precious to me,” Furlong said in his first day of testimony in the defamation suit filed against him by freelance journalist Laura Robinson.
Robinson was the author of “John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake”, an article published in the Georgia Straight on September 27, 2012.
According to the article, the former Vanoc boss first came to Canada in 1969, five years earlier than 1974, the year Furlong wrote in Patriot Hearts that he and his family arrived.
The story also reported on eight sworn affidavits by former students of Furlong at the Immaculata Elementary School, alleging that the native of Ireland taunted, bullied, and hurt First Nations students.
On the day Robinson’s story came out in the Straight, Furlong explained why he didn’t mention Burns Lake in his book.
“My time in Burns Lake was fairly brief and fairly uneventful,” Furlong said at a news conference.
Furlong later sued the Straight and Robinson for defamation, but he eventually discontinued his legal action.
Meanwhile, Robinson counter-sued Furlong for various public statements he had made questioning her competence and honesty as a journalist.
The trial of Robinson’s defamation suit started on June 15.
Furlong took the witness stand for the first time today (June 22), and responding to questions from his lawyer John Hunter, the former Olympics official recalled that his time teaching physical education to elementary students in Burns Lake in the 1969-1970 school year was “absolutely fantastic”.
“I met my wife there. We got married there,” Furlong said in B.C. Supreme Court.
He also met a lot of people, and according to him, he felt that when he left Burns Lake, it would always be a “warm memory” for him.
“It was a very happy place,” Furlong said.
When organizers for the 2010 Olympic Games didn’t include Burns Lake in the torch relay, Furlong said that he used his executive influence to make sure that the town was part of that exercise.
The court also heard from Furlong that before the Games, a staff member with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games told him of meeting a woman who was claiming that she was mistreated by Furlong in Burns Lake.
“I have absolutely no recollection of anything like this,” Furlong recalled of his reaction at the time.
According to Furlong, the Vanoc staffer suggested to him that for a payment of $5,000, the issue would go away.
Furlong went on to relate that contrary to a previous claim that he talked with the woman somewhere in Surrey, the meeting took place in the False Creek neighborhood of Vancouver.
“We shook hands and we went away,” Furlong said about how the meeting ended.
In his opening statement today, Furlong’s lawyer told the judge that the law recognizes a person’s right to answer an attack on that person’s reputation.
According to Hunter, a person responding to an attack may use “violent” or “excessively strong” language, and “may attack the character of their attacker”.
Hunter also said that Furlong’s statements against Robinson after the publication of her article were made without malice.