John Furlong’s girlfriend testified in court as part of his defence in a defamation suit brought by freelance journalist Laura Robinson.
Renee Smith-Valade, a former subordinate of Furlong at the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, of which he was CEO, took the witness stand on the eighth day of the trial of the civil case.
As Smith-Valade recalled in B.C. Supreme Court, she has worked with Furlong for many years and they were friends.
Sometime in late 2013 or early 2014, according to her, that changed.
“Our relationship evolved into more of a committed relationship, a partnership,” Smith-Valade said in her direct testimony today (June 24).
In cross-examination, Robinson’s lawyer, Bryan Baynham, asked Smith-Valade about her role in events that are subject to his client’s defamation suit.
These include the creation of Furlong’s October 2, 2012, statement, which accused Robinson of contempt towards the Olympics, the leadership of Vanoc, and male authority figures in sport.
Baynham read an email by Smith-Valade during the preparation of the statement in which she wrote that she “tried to put the most important things at the top that throws her [Robinson’s] credibility into question and convey the hurt and pain her complete lack of integrity had caused”.
“Those were your words?” Baynham asked.
“Yes, they are,” Smith-Valade said.
Baynham then asked if it was a “good idea to attack Ms. Robinson’s integrity”.
Smith-Valade said that it’s Robinson’s “credibility” that was in question.
“Her credibility, not integrity. Fair enough,” said Baynham.
Smith-Valade also confirmed to Baynham that she assisted in the October 2013 media blitz by Furlong, which included select interviews.
Two of these interviews—one with Global TV and the other with Maclean’s magazine—had Furlong saying that Robinson brought a complaint of sexual abuse before the RCMP against Furlong on behalf of a First Nations woman, a claim which is also a subject of Robinson’s defamation suit.
Responding earlier to questions from defence lawyer Claire Hunter, Smith-Valade recalled her dealings with Robinson before and after the 2010 Games.
According to Smith-Valade, one encounter was in 2008 when Robinson accused her of being a traitor to women as Smith-Valade was holding a media scrum regarding the exclusion of women’s ski-jumping in the Vancouver Olympics.
Furlong had accused Robinson of contempt toward male authority figures, a claim that is now part of the defamation suit against him.
Smith-Valade asserted that the freelance journalist did not have a balanced approach in reporting about Vanoc.
Smith-Valade recounted that less than a year after Robinson’s controversial article about Furlong was published in the Georgia Straight in September 2012, the two of them met on a flight from Toronto to Vancouver.
She related that on that trip, Robinson gave her a handwritten letter, claiming that more people had come forward to allege that they were abused by Furlong between 1969 and the early 1970s during his time as a Christian missionary in northern B.C.
Robinson’s article in the Straight reported on Furlong’s previously undisclosed history as a Frontier Apostle in Burns Lake. The piece also cited eight sworn affidavits from former students taught by Furlong at the Immaculata Elementary School regarding alleged emotional and physical abuses.
“That letter was shocking,” Smith-Valade said in court.
Furlong has maintained that Robinson conducted an unrelenting attack against his reputation, and is claiming qualified privilege as his defence against Robinson’s allegations that he defamed her by questioning her honesty and competence as a journalist.
Earlier in the day, Catholic nun Marie Melling testified as a former principal at Immaculata during the time Furlong was the school’s gym teacher.
Melling told the court that she was not aware of Furlong strapping school children. She described Furlong as “always kind”.
Also appearing before the court was Johnna Sparrow-Crawford, a communications and protocol officer for the Musqueam Nation.
Sparrow-Crawford related that her and one of Furlong’s daughters were former schoolmates. Her daughter used to have sleep-overs with the Furlongs.
Sparrow-Crawford recalled receiving an email from Robinson after the Straight story was published. She told the court that she didn't respond to it.
After the Straight article came out, Furlong sued the newspaper and Robinson for defamation, but he eventually discontinued his legal action.
The trial of Robinson’s defamation suit started on June 15.
One of the allegedly defamatory statements made by Furlong was that Robinson filed a complaint before the RCMP on behalf of Beverly Abraham, one of Furlong’s former students, regarding alleged sexual abuse.
The journalist has maintained that it was Abraham herself who went to the RCMP detachment in Burns Lake in July 2012.
Abraham’s allegation of sexual abuse was not included in Robinson’s story published in the Straight.
RCMP Cpl. Quinton Mackie investigated the complaint, and subsequently concluded there was no basis for Abraham’s allegation.
On October 29, 2013, Furlong issued a statement announcing that he would not continue with his defamation suit against the Straight.
In the same statement, Furlong said that he “fully cooperated with the police” in the investigation of Abraham’s complaint. He also said that the RCMP concluded its investigation.
On the witness stand this afternoon, Mackie confirmed upon Baynham’s questioning that he had asked for a taped statement from Furlong in September 2012 regarding the Abraham complaint.
According to Mackie, Furlong’s camp decided later that it would not be providing a taped statement from Furlong.
Mackie also testified that it was only in December 2013 that the RCMP finally closed its file on the Abraham case.