Freelance writer Laura Robinson has filed a defamation suit against former Vanoc CEO John Furlong, alleging that he libelled her in six public statements.
Central to her claim is that Furlong wasn’t truthful when he repeatedly alleged she had filed a complaint with the RCMP that he had sexually assaulted a former student—a claim that Robinson has adamantly denied.
In a 25-page notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on January 27, Robinson also named TwentyTen Group Strategic Marketing Communications Inc. and TwentyTen Group Holdings Inc. as defendants. Robinson alleged that these firms, doing business as the TwentyTen Group, have been “the exclusive media communications representative for Furlong”.
Robinson alleged that Furlong’s public response to an article she wrote about him in the Georgia Straight in September 2012 has “caused and continues to cause injury, loss and damage to the plaintiff, and was deliberately calculated by the defendants to expose the plaintiff to contempt, ridicule and hatred, and to cause other persons to shun or avoid the plaintiff, and to lower the plaintiff’s reputation in the eyes of right-thinking members of the community, all of which has in fact occurred”.
She is seeking an interim and permanent injunction to stop the defendants from continuing to libel her, as well as general damages, special damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages, and special costs.
None of Robinson’s allegations have been proven in court.
In November 2012, Furlong sued Robinson, the Georgia Straight, publisher and editor Dan McLeod, and editor Charlie Smith, alleging that Robinson’s article, “John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake”, defamed him.
The story cited affidavits sworn by eight former students who alleged that they had either witnessed or experienced physical abuse or racial taunting by Furlong when he taught physical education at Immaculata elementary school in Burns Lake in 1969 and 1970.
Robinson’s story in the Georgia Straight did not include any allegations of a sexual nature.
Three adults claiming to be former students of Furlong have filed lawsuits against him alleging sexual abuse, which Furlong has vehemently denied.
Last December, RCMP corporal Quinton Mackie wrote to Furlong’s lawyer, Marvin Storrow, declaring that one plaintiff’s claims “are not supported” and that there were no reasonable and probable grounds for recommending charges against Furlong in that case.
Last October, Furlong filed a notice of discontinuance against the Straight and its employees but vowed in media interviews to “escalate” his action against Robinson. Two of those interviews are cited in Robinson’s lawsuit.
In an October 28, 2013, chat with Global TV’s Chris Gailus, Furlong described Robinson as an “activist” and alleged that she had filed a complaint against him with the RCMP.
Furlong made similar comments in a Maclean’s magazine article on October 29.
According to Robinson’s notice of civil claim, these words meant either that Robinson had filed “a complaint with the RCMP alleging that the defendant Furlong sexually assaulted one of his former students” or that Robinson had filed “a false police report concerning the defendant Furlong”.
“Each of the above meanings is false, malicious and defamatory of and concerning the plaintiff,” Robinson’s notice of civil claim declared.
Furlong also issued a lengthy statement on his website on October 29 alleging, among other things, that Robinson’s “unproven written and verbal allegations” in her statement of defence exposed him and his family “to continuing humiliation, ridicule, and destroyed our privacy”.
Robinson’s notice of civil claim alleged that Furlong’s comments in his October 29 statement “meant and were understood to mean” that Robinson is a “liar”, “heartless”, and “cruel and spiteful”, and “continually fabricates stories in her professional occupation as journalist”.
Robinson, who has an honorary doctorate of laws from York University, maintained that each of these meanings is “false, malicious and defamatory”.
On November 13, Robinson’s lawyer, Bryan Baynham, demanded that Furlong retract his comments, remove defamatory statements from his website, and issue an apology.
“Through public statements to the media the defendant Furlong has indicated he will not retract or apologize for the allegations set out above, despite actual knowledge that the plaintiff did not initiate a complaint with the RCMP as alleged,” Robinson’s notice of civil claim stated.
Ironically, Baynham acted for two of the defendants in the most famous libel lawsuit ever filed by a B.C. journalist.
Former Vancouver Sun business reporter David Baines and Southam Inc. sued stock tout George Chelekis, Market News Publishing Inc., Robert Shore, and others.
This came after Chelekis had attacked Baines in several newsletter articles, a news release, and a public statement at a seminar.
In a 1998 ruling, B.C. Supreme Court judge J.F. Rowan awarded Baines $875,000, including $200,000 in aggravated and punitive damages against Chelekis.