British Columbia

Indigenous former students say RCMP response to complaint about John Furlong investigation insufficient

The reply by six members of the Lake Babine Nation refutes claims by the RCMP that the investigation interviewed key witnesses and says it failed to take into account Indigenous people’s distrust of the RCMP.

Lake Babine Nation members say investigation failed to take into account Indigenous people's distrust of RCMP

Dorothy Williams is one of six former students whose names are on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal filing. Williams says she was never interviewed by the RCMP. (Dorothy William)

A group of Indigenous former day school students say the B.C. RCMP failed to address key issues in its response to a human rights complaint concerning the investigation into abuse allegations against John Furlong.

The reply by six members of the Lake Babine Nation says the RCMP's response to their complaint contains factual errors and fails to address what they describe as discriminatory investigation tactics. 

They refute claims by the RCMP that the investigation interviewed key witnesses and they say it failed to take into account Indigenous people's distrust of the RCMP.

Furlong, former CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, faced physical and verbal abuse allegations and one sexual abuse claim levelled in 2012 by former students who attended Immaculata elementary school when Furlong taught physical education there in 1969. The institution was a day school in the Lake Babine First Nation, about 220 kilometres northwest of Prince George, B.C. The school closed in the 1980s.

The RCMP launched an investigation into the abuse allegations, which they concluded in 2014 after determining there was not enough evidence to recommend criminal charges against Furlong. 

In June, six members of the Lake Babine Nation who attended Immaculata when Furlong taught there filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, claiming the northern B.C. RCMP investigation was tainted by "bias" and "discrimination."

They are seeking an apology from the RCMP and want the tribunal to oversee the selection of an independent investigative team to probe the allegations, according to the document. The former students are also seeking $40,000  each for reckless and wilful discrimination and for the psychological and emotional harm they suffered. 

RCMP defends Furlong investigation

In a response filed on Sept. 8, the RCMP says it undertook "a thorough and careful investigation" into allegations by Beverly Abraham, an Indigenous woman, of childhood sexual abuse while she attended Immaculata Catholic School.

The police force says Cpl. Quinton Mackie, the officer in charge of the investigation, "proactively identified and interviewed potential witnesses and pursued various leads" over the course of 18 months.

Furlong has consistently denied the allegations, which have never led to any charges or successful civil cases. 

John Furlong is pictured at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Richmond, B.C., on Jan. 27, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The RCMP says the human rights complaints against the investigation "misunderstand the structure of the criminal justice system and cannot be evidence of discrimination." It says that includes the presumption of innocence and accountability of the RCMP to the public, and asks that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal dismiss the complaint.

Failure to interview witnesses

However, the six complainants say their case is not about the Abraham investigation, but rather overall discrimination by the RCMP while investigating reports of historic childhood abuse. They also claim the RCMP failed to modify their investigative methods to meet the cultural needs of Indigenous people, for example by providing support services for victims of abuse.

They say the RCMP failed to interview key witnesses in the investigation, including Hereditary Chief Ronnie West, who is the brother of lead complainant Cathy Woodgate, and a representative in the case. 

The RCMP claims Mackie interviewed Ronnie West in 2012, but West says he was never contacted and the officer spoke to someone else with the same name.

"When you do the investigation you make sure you have the proper person," West told CBC News. "As a First Nations person, this is something that we go through all the time where we're considered [that] we don't know what we're talking about."

Hereditary Chief Ronnie West says he was never contacted by RCMP. (Courtesy of Ronnie West)

The complainants refute the RCMP claim that the investigative team obtained school records and class lists from the Prince George Diocese for Immaculata, Prince George College or the other schools in the diocese at which Furlong taught in the 1970s.

They also say there are no public records proving that the RCMP interviewed Furlong during the investigation.

According to the RCMP's response to the tribunal, none of the six complainants in the human rights case filed criminal complaints, which is why they were not contacted after their initial interviews.

The RCMP states that any differences in the way the investigation was undertaken were the result of the historical nature of the complaints, the reliability of the evidence, and the failure to file a criminal complaint, not because of the witnesses' Indigenous identity.

The tribunal has not yet set a date for a hearing.

With files from Jorge Barrera