Laura Robinson’s lawyer says John Furlong win would have “chilling effects” for journalism

B.C. Supreme Court hears closing arguments in defamation case

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      The lawyer for a journalist who is suing John Furlong for defamation warned of the “chilling effects” that will be created if the former Vancouver Olympics CEO prevails in the case.

      In his closing arguments in B.C. Supreme Court, Bryan Baynham said a Furlong victory would signal that it’s “open season” for the “wealthy and powerful” to destroy the reputations of journalists like his client, Laura Robinson.

      “Journalists by their very nature publish uncomfortable allegations,” Baynham said Friday (June 26).

      Robinson is the author of an in-depth article titled “John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake”, published in the Georgia Straight on September 27, 2012. The article uncovered the prominent figure’s previously undisclosed history as a Christian missionary in Burns Lake, B.C., and reported on claims that he abused First Nations students he taught at an elementary school.

      Furlong’s lawyer John Hunter asserted in his closing arguments that the law recognizes in a “very practical way” the right of an individual to respond to an attack against that person’s reputation.

      “If you’re going to dish it out, better be prepared to take it,” Hunter said.

      Referring to Robinson, Hunter said that the case is about a “self-styled journalist” who sued the “target” of her “incendiary” article for lashing back at her.

      “These are lies; absolutely didn’t happen,” Hunter said about the emotional and physical abuse allegedly perpetrated by Furlong as a gym teacher in Burns Lake between 1969 and 1970.

      For his part, Baynham said that journalists are expected to act responsibly in their reporting, which he asserted that Robinson did.

      “Ms. Robinson did not say Mr. Furlong abused individual students,” Baynham said at the end of the two-week trial. “She quoted others. The people she quoted, those individuals, not her, made the attack.”

      What Furlong is asking the court, according to Baynham, is to consider reporting a quote containing an attack on a person as the same as an attack itself on the said person.

      “It will fundamentally change how the media reports,” Baynham said.

      Baynham said that Robinson did what a “good investigative journalist” does, which was to conduct research and interviews.

      “Mr. Furlong had many opportunities to say his side of the story but he chose not to,” the lawyer said.

      Instead, Furlong conducted a “public relations campaign” that was designed to discredit and damage the reputation of Robinson, Baynham asserted.

      Her reporting and the steps she took to prepare her story cannot be construed as “attacks”, Baynham said.

      After the Straight article came out, Furlong sued the newspaper and Robinson for defamation, but he eventually dropped his legal action.

      Robinson counter-sued Furlong for various public statements he had made. She argues he questioned her honesty and integrity as a journalist, implied she tried to extort money to make the story go away, and claimed she filed a complaint with the RCMP on behalf of another woman allegedly abused by Furlong when she was a child.

      During closing arguments, Furlong’s lawyer said: “Nobody came into this courtroom and said the allegations against him are true because they’re not.”

      Hunter also took exception to doubts cast on his client’s honesty.

      In Furlong’s autobiographical book Patriot Hearts, Furlong wrote that he came to Canada with his family in the fall of 1974. He did not mention that he first came in 1969, and after a few years, returned to his native country of Ireland.

      During the trial, Furlong admitted during questioning by Robinson’s lawyer that he actually arrived in Canada as a landed immigrant in 1975.

      But according to Furlong’s lawyer, the issue of when Furlong really came to Canada is not important.

      “As if that trivial matter was a matter of great public interest,” he said.

      At the end of the trial that started on June 15, Justice Catherine Wedge announced that she will come up with her written reasons for decision soon.

      Talking to reporters later, Furlong said that he was glad that the trial is over, thanking his family and friends for their support.

      Because it’s now known that he came first to Canada in 1969 and returned as a landed immigrant in 1975—not 1974 as he wrote in his book—Furlong was asked if he will make corrections to Patriot Hearts.

      Furlong didn’t bother with a reply, and walked away.

      Comments

      23 Comments

      Wondering

      Jun 26, 2015 at 2:13pm

      Ms. Robinson wasn't acting as a journalist so it won't have any effect.

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      Eagle_Joe

      Jun 26, 2015 at 2:19pm

      Does Ken Shields agree with Mr Baynham's comment that Robinson is a "good investigative journalist"? I certainly don't.

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      Oy Gevalt

      Jun 26, 2015 at 2:59pm

      Okay, that's one side's (rather weak) closing argument ... let's hear the other.

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      stop it already

      Jun 26, 2015 at 3:17pm

      The judge should just knock their heads together and an apology given to all the people that may have been victimized. Imagine how all of this would feel if you were a victim and you have to listen to some UBC prof making claims that people can create memories. Over and over in the media you have to hear how your abuser did not abuse you. Sick really. Then of course let's say Furlong did not do any of this - I really do feel for him. Then of course Robinson took on a story from hell that blew up all over her ability to earn money... that's not good either. The one word we all need to relearn is COMPASSION. It seems to be in very small supply these days.

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      the golden rule

      Jun 26, 2015 at 3:37pm

      In this day and age the age of greed the golden rule applies to everything even free speech & journalism . Those with the gold make the rules .
      Lets hope for an outcome that brakes the golden rule !!!

      Appalled

      Jun 26, 2015 at 4:56pm

      "wealthy and powerful".

      Until Furlong was appointed to head up VANOC, he was pretty much a non-entity, IMO, unless you were a member of the Arbutus Club.

      Of course, if you visit his website, http://www.johnfurlong.ca/, you'll get a much, much different opinion...but he, himself, seems to have written the glowing testimonials about himself.

      As he seems to have written, "...John Furlong’s keynote speeches can move you to tears...(and he is ) known for his masterful storytelling and innovative leadership style."

      Storyteller!!! Hmm. When does the storytelling start and end???

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      meh

      Jun 26, 2015 at 9:45pm

      Anyone else think Robinson's going to lose?

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      Avg Van Man

      Jun 27, 2015 at 8:12am

      What a load of fearmongering crap!
      The way this journalist conducted herself was tabloid level. Pretty flimsy argument to say that whatever comes out of a journalist is golden and unimpeachable without substantiation.

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      A Fan

      Jun 27, 2015 at 10:49am

      Without investigative and brave journalism, we are doomed as a democratic country. There are very very few editors who will let their journalists step outside and shine a light in the dark. I must admit, I did not follow this story in any detail, but I am fully aware from personal experience that journalists have let stories of historic proportions slip away due to fear of reprisal from powerful people in Vancouver............No guts, no democracy.......

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