Indigenous

First Nations day school students want new investigation of abuse claims, say RCMP probe marred by 'bias'

The B.C. RCMP investigation into First Nations day school abuse allegations against John Furlong, the former 2010 Vancouver Olympics CEO, was tainted by "bias" and "discrimination," according to a recent filing with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

No charges were laid against 2010 Vancouver Olympics CEO after B.C. RCMP investigation

Dorothy Williams is one of the six whose name is on the tribunal filing. Williams says she was never interviewed by the RCMP. (Dorothy William)

The B.C. RCMP investigation into First Nations day school abuse allegations against John Furlong, the former 2010 Vancouver Olympics CEO, was tainted by "bias" and "discrimination," according to a recent filing with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

The filing by six members of the Lake Babine Nation itemized the failures of the RCMP investigation, ranging from limited questioning of alleged victims, to a failure to follow leads or to obtain additional information through production orders. 

"The case demonstrates the inequality that Indigenous communities experience in accessing justice," said the Complainant's Statement of Particulars, submitted with the tribunal on Monday. 

"It reveals the biased attitudes and systemic discrimination that exists in police investigative methods, and shows how Indigenous victims of abuse suffer adverse impacts, such as being disbelieved and/or dehumanized. Bias in favour of powerful non-Indigenous individuals, even if unconsciously held, results in harmful treatment to Indigenous complainants of abuse."

All six Lake Babine Nation members attended the Catholic-run Immaculata elementary school when Furlong taught physical education there in 1969. The institution was a day school in the First Nation, about 220 kilometres northwest of Prince George, B.C. The school closed in the 1980s.

They are seeking an apology from the RCMP and for 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. 

The RCMP concluded its investigation of Furlong in 2014 after determining there were no grounds for charges stemming from the physical and verbal abuse allegations and one sexual abuse claim levelled by former students who attended Immaculata.

Furlong has consistently and strenuously denied the allegations which have never led to any charges or successful civil cases — he faced three civil claims, but one was dropped and the other two dismissed. 

A representative of Furlong sent an emailed statement to CBC News. 

"Mr. Furlong maintains his full innocence of all allegations against him, including those that were ruled on in court findings, all of which were determined to be unsubstantiated," said the statement. 

The B.C. RCMP said in an emailed statement it would be "inappropriate for us to comment" as the case "remains on-going."

The Canadian Human Rights Commission referred the case to the tribunal for a hearing. A hearing date has not yet been set. The RCMP is expected to file its response by August.

'We were called liars'

Dorothy Williams is one of the six whose name is on the tribunal filing. She attended Immaculata during Furlong's term there and she drafted a statement outlining allegations of physical and racial verbal abuse she suffered at the school in 2012 but was never interviewed by the RCMP.

Williams alleged she was hit so hard in gym class she was knocked to the ground and that she and other students were called "dirty little thieving Indians," according to her statement.

She said she wants justice.

"They put us through torture and tormented us," said Williams, who now teaches the Nedut'en language with the Lake Babine Nation.

Hereditary Chief Ronnie West drafted an affidavit in 2012 outlining his allegations and was also never interviewed by the RCMP. While he is not named in the filing, West said he fully backs the human rights case. 

"For me to be called a liar in public, I don't take that very lightly," he said.

"We are a First Nations people and we put an allegation out and we were called liars."

The filing alleges that the B.C. RCMP officer from the Prince George detachment who was handed the case — because the local detachment was short staffed — failed to properly advance the investigation and made no attempt to find additional victims. 

Even a review of the B.C. RCMP investigation by Alberta RCMP, which produced 28 recommendations, did little to improve the probe, the filing said.

John Furlong has previously denied all allegations, which were never proven in court. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The Alberta RCMP review recommended the investigative officer "consider a polygraph" for a taped re-interview of Furlong about the allegations of physical and sexual abuse and his own allegation of facing extortion, according to the filing.

"[The officer] did not ask [Furlong] to take a polygraph test, nor did he re-interview him," said the filing. 

However, the RCMP officer from the local detachment who initially handled the first allegation against Furlong — a claim of physical and sexual abuse — asked the woman complainant 11 times to take a polygraph test, said the filing. 

The woman refused saying "she did not see why she should have to take a test when she was telling the truth," the filing said. 

The Alberta RCMP review's recommendations also included "basic procedures such as interviewing individuals who had alleged abuse that had not been interviewed." 

The review also recommended obtaining taped statements and documenting individual abuse allegations, said the filing.

By the time the investigation ended, only six of 18 people interviewed were taped during questioning, according to the filing. 

Karen Bellehumeur, a London, Ont., based lawyer is representing the six former First Nation students. (bellehumeurlaw.com)

"There seemed to be a lack of motivation to really take on a robust investigation and we have seen robust investigations in other kinds of abuse investigations. This wasn't one of them," said Karen Bellehumeur, a London, Ont.-based lawyer representing the six former students. 

"It appears it was motivated by discrimination and that discrimination is exacerbated when there is really a severe power differential and that was the case in this investigation."

RCMP brass had been on Olympics security team

The filing, quoting an internal 2012 RCMP email, said the Mounties mentioned the upcoming London Summer Olympics and the possible "embarrassment" to government and sporting authorities and organizations. 

"Whether this allegation is based on a single victim or further individuals possibly come forward as suggested, if they are substantiated it will prove to be an embarrassment at a number of levels of governments, private and sporting corporations, associations and other organizations including the Canadian and International Olympic Organizations," the filing quotes a July 12, 2012, email by Supt. Paul Richards, as saying.

Richards had been involved with the Vancouver Olympics' integrated security team along with a senior officer in Prince George, said the filing. 

The RCMP wrapped up its investigation in 2014 after determining that the memory-based evidence of the individuals interviewed lacked "details for time, place, identify of suspect, and any corroborating events that could possibly overcome these deficiencies," according to the filing. 

"Those findings were made even though witnesses interviewed had been asked very few questions about details and no follow-up interviews had been conducted," said the filing.

The filing said only one of the complainants was told of the investigation's outcome.

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

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