British Columbia

Laura Robinson made false accusation of racism, says ex-national coach

Former Canadian men's basketball coach Ken Shields says he was the subject of a "sickening" and erroneous report by the same journalist who penned a damning 2012 article about former Olympics CEO John Furlong.

Former national basketball coach at Furlong trial says 'sickening' 1994 article accused him of racial bias

Former national men's basketball team head coach Ken Shields claims Laura Robinson wrote a 1994 article accusing him of racism. (Canadian Press)

The former head coach of Canada's national men's basketball team says he was the subject of a "sickening" and erroneous report by Laura Robinson, the same journalist who wrote an article accusing former Olympics CEO John Furlong of abuse.

Ken Shields testified in Furlong's defence Tuesday at a B.C. Supreme Court trial where Robinson accuses Furlong of defaming her.

Shields said Robinson wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail in 1994 implying he was a racist because of a lack of black players on the national team.

"I was absolutely devastated that anyone would say I had a racial bias over anything in my life," he testified.

"This was the lowest point I ever felt in my life. For these allegations to be levelled against me was sickening — absolutely sickening."

'She was on a campaign'

Robinson claims Furlong caused her emotional and financial harm in his response to a September 2012 Georgia Straight article, which alleged abuse against students at a Burns Lake Catholic school where Furlong taught in 1969.

In his defence, Furlong claims he was entitled to respond to what amounted to an attack by Robinson. He has accused her of being an activist who has a problem with male authority figures.

Freelance journalist Laura Robinson claims John Furlong defamed her in his responses to her 2012 Georgia Straight article. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"She was on a campaign," Furlong said. "That's the way it was, and that's the way I saw it. I reacted like any normal person would."

A member of the Order of Canada, Shields said Robinson interviewed him twice in the lead-up to the 1994 piece.

"It was a very aggressive, caustic call, accusing me of racial bias," he said. "I didn't feel she was open to really anything I said."

Furlong's lawyer suggested the piece was intended to be about systemic racism. But Shields said as head coach, he took it personally.

After the article came out, Shields said he asked for an independent investigation, which ultimately exonerated him. He also reached an out-of-court settlement with the newspaper ahead of a lawsuit.

He said the Globe and Mail published a retraction: "It was about two inches by two inches."

Shields said he has known Furlong for more than two decades. He said he called him after reading about the Georgia Straight articles and offered to testify on his behalf.

"I said to him that I couldn't even relate to how devastating it must have been," he said. "His charges were so much more awful than mine."

'How dare you sully her life?'

Shields's testimony followed hours of combative cross-examination between Furlong and Bryan Baynham, Robinson's lawyer. The public gallery gradually filled during the day as curious onlookers stepped in to watch the two spar.

Baynham questioned Furlong's accounts of key events described in both speeches and his book Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics that Changed a Country.

The lawyer questioned the sequence of events following the death of Furlong's cousin in a bombing in Dublin; the date he arrived in Canada: 1975 not 1974; and his job: gym teacher and not athletic director. 

Baynham also implied Furlong gave flawed testimony about his wife's actions on the day Robinson's article appeared.

Furlong said she woke early and followed a Georgia Straight van around Vancouver, scooping up copies of the free paper until their vehicle was filled to the brim.

Former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong claims he was entitled to respond to an 'attack' by Laura Robinson. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Deborah Furlong died several months later in a car accident in Ireland; Furlong blamed the article for her death, testifying that they should have been in Canada but left to escape the stress.

Baynham suggested she only picked up one copy of the paper on the day of publication. 

"How dare you sully her life and her reputation like that?" Furlong said, raising his voice.

'Untrue allegations — all of them'

Baynham led Furlong through interviews he gave in 2013 in which he said the RCMP exonerated him of sexual abuse. He wouldn't concede the file was actually still open at the time, as several media reported.

"It was true to me," Furlong said.

"That's the test?" Baynham asked.

"Yes," Furlong replied.

Baynham pointed out that Furlong refused to give a taped statement to police. Furlong said he was prepared to take a polygraph in three civil cases that claimed sexual abuse. 

One of the claimants withdrew her suit and the two others were dismissed when it emerged the people making the allegations had not actually attended Immaculata.

Baynham asked Furlong about 30 people named in Robinson's response to a civil claim he launched against her as having either witnessed or experienced abuse. Furlong later dropped the suit.

"They were untrue allegations — all of them," Furlong said.

"All 30?" Baynham asked.

"All of them."

Furlong's testimony is expected to continue Wednesday with the nun who was the principal of Immaculata elementary school during Furlong's time as a teacher.