British Columbia

John Furlong's lawyer accuses Laura Robinson of trying to bring him down

A lawyer for John Furlong claimed in court Wednesday that Laura Robinson wanted to destroy the ex-Vancouver Olympics CEO's reputation with a story about allegations of abuse.

Cross-examination begins in defamation trial pitting freelance reporter against ex-Vancouver Olympics CEO

Freelance journalist Laura Robinson denied accusations from John Furlong's lawyer that she intended to "bring down" the former Vancouver Olympics CEO. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

John Furlong's lawyer claimed Wednesday journalist Laura Robinson tried to destroy the former Vancouver Olympics CEO's reputation with a 2012 story about allegations of abuse at a Burns Lake Catholic school.

John Hunter's cross-examination of the freelance reporter began in B.C. Supreme Court with a testy exchange.

"Your whole intention was to bring down Mr. Furlong, wasn't it? he asked Robinson.

"That's incorrect," she replied.

'Had the goods'

Robinson is suing Furlong for defamation in relation to statements he made in several responses to her Georgia Straight article. She says he implied she was unethical, cruel and motivated by a personal vendetta.

She claims to have suffered financial, emotional and physical damage.

Hunter accused Robinson of attacking Furlong because he was a male authority figure and she thought she "had the goods" to bring him down. She denied the accusation.

He also suggested she was determined to report an allegation of sexual abuse made by one student, despite the fact both The Toronto Star and The Georgia Straight decided not to publish the claim.

Defence lawyer John Hunter accused Laura Robinson of undertaking a campaign to discredit John Furlong. (Jason Proctor/CBC)

The Star eventually backed out of the story altogether as did the CBC, which had earlier been involved.

Robinson eventually published a version of the story which said the RCMP were investigating the sexual abuse claim. It ran in the Anishinabek News.

She said she left it to editors to decide what to run and what to cut and was "perfectly happy" to have the story run without the sexual assault claim.

Investigative steps

The cross-examination followed a day and a half of Robinson outlining steps she took to investigate claims Furlong had taught at the school in 1969 and allegedly verbally and physically abused children.

She obtained eight sworn affidavits from former students after sending out a flyer saying she wanted to meet people who knew Furlong at the time.

But Hunter pointed to another notice which said she was investigating general claims of abuse.

Thirty five people were waiting at the band office when Robinson arrived. Hunter asked Robinson if the fact they had to wait for an hour might have given rise to collusion.

"I believed the students were telling the truth," said Robinson.

Freelance journalist Laura Robinson alleges former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong publicly portrayed her as unethical, heartless and cruel. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The sexual assault claim was made by Beverly Abraham, one of three people who sued Furlong in the wake of Robinson's article. Abraham ultimately withdrew her claim and the other two suits were dismissed.

Hunter asked Robinson what steps she took to investigate Abraham's claim; she said she looked through archives for the Catholic church but came up with nothing.

She said she didn't speak with Abraham's mother because she had Alzheimer's and didn't speak with her brothers because of the sensitivity of the allegations.

Campaign to discredit?

Hunter asked Robinson about a series of emails to people including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, the communications director for the Canadian Olympic Committee and former World Doping Agency head Dick Pound.

The emails outlined the allegations and in some cases included copies of the sworn declarations the journalist had obtained. 

Hunter suggested Robinson wanted to discredit Furlong. But she said she wanted to see what kind of due diligence they had done in hiring Furlong.

"I wanted to make sure they knew about the serious nature of the allegations," she said.

"I didn't have a campaign to discredit Mr. Furlong."

Furlong claims he was entitled by qualified privilege to respond to what amounted to an attack by Robinson in the article.

The cross-examination is expected to continue Thursday. Furlong is also expected to testify.