Ex-VANOC head John Furlong denies allegations he abused First Nations students
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 6:02PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 27, 2012 10:56PM EDT
John Furlong, the former CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Winter Olympics, is denying allegations that he abused First Nations students four decades ago at a Catholic school in Burns Lake, B.C. and says he will sue the newspaper that published them.
Eight people who said they were Furlong’s former students at Immaculata Elementary School from 1969 told the Georgia Straight, a weekly newspaper in Vancouver, that the now-celebrated Canadian abused them mentally and physically.
The Georgia Straight said eight former students signed affidavits about their experiences with Furlong.
“I want you to know I categorically deny absolutely any wrongdoing and I believe that the RCMP in looking into this matter will discredit the complaint entirely because it just did not happen,” Furlong told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver Thursday afternoon.
“As a result of inaccurate reporting, I feel that my character has been recklessly challenged and I have no choice now but to proceed with legal action,” he said, adding that the Georgia Straight reporter, Laura Robinson, “did not place a single call to me to validate any of the elements of this story.”
In a statement posted on its website, the Georgia Straight said Furlong’s lawyer, Marvin Storrow, “did not make Mr. Furlong available to respond to questions from the journalist.” The paper also said Robinson unsuccessfully tried to reach Furlong through his publisher.
“Having experienced this reporter on many occasions in the past this feels very much like a personal vendetta,” Furlong said. “And finally let me just say on the very first occasion that this was brought to my attention prior to the Olympics I was advised that for a payment it could be made to go away.”
Furlong said he reported the matter to police at the time.
Georgia Straight’s investigative report alleges that Furlong was misleading in his 2011 autobiography, Patriot Hearts, about the year he immigrated to Canada from Ireland.
In his book, Furlong wrote that he arrived in Edmonton in 1974 after he was recruited to head up a high school athletics program in Prince George, B.C.
But the Georgia Straight alleges that Furlong came to B.C. in 1969 as a Catholic missionary who was sent to “help save the souls of First Nations children” in Burns Lake. The paper reported that Furlong had no formal training as a teacher but was hired to oversee phys-ed classes at Immaculata Elementary School.
Furlong said Thursday he did not mention his time in Burns Lake in his autobiography because it was “fairly brief and fairly uneventful.”
“I went back to Ireland and came to Canada years later as a landed immigrant,” he said. “However, I have friends in Burns Lake. Been there many time since. I have spoken there. I visited the community with a First Nations delegation prior to the Olympics, and brought the Olympic torch relay through the community, all without incident.”
Furlong has received numerous accolades and awards over the years, including the Order of Canada and the title of B.C.’s Sportsman of the Decade. He is currently the executive chair of the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team.
None of the allegations against him have been proven.