Journalist penned letter alleging Furlong abused over 40 former students: court

VANCOUVER — A freelance journalist suing former Vancouver Olympics’ CEO John Furlong for defamation penned a hand-written letter claiming he had abused more than 40 First Nations’ students at a northern British Columbia school, the trial has heard.

Former 2010 Games spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade told B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday she was “stunned” when Laura Robinson handed her a lengthy note during a chance encounter at a Toronto airport in April 2013. The note alleged Furlong’s actions had resulted in at least one suicide.

“She invites me to be an off-the-record interview for her,” said Smith-Valade, reading from the message. “She said, ‘I’m hoping you will consider this option to go off the record as a way of being a member of the human race.'”

Smith-Valade said she immediately handed the letter over to Furlong’s lawyers after landing in Vancouver.

Robinson is suing Furlong for defamation based on public comments he made after she published a newspaper article in 2012. 

The article included affidavits from eight former First Nations’ students and alleged Furlong physically and verbally abused the children while working as a gym teacher at a Roman Catholic school in Burns Lake, B.C., about 45 years ago.

On Monday, Furlong told the civil trial he was asked to pay a $5,000 bribe just months before the 2010 Winter Olympics to make the allegations “go away.”

Smith-Valade testified she was part of the team that drafted an October 2012 statement in which Furlong responded to Robinson’s allegations.

Under cross-examination, Smith-Valade said she was aware Robinson was concerned about the blackmail allegations. Robinson wanted to ensure people didn’t think she tried to blackmail Furlong, but Smith-Valade said no action was taken to clarify the issue.

Furlong has vehemently denied all allegations of abuse, none of which have been proven in court.

The former principal of Immaculata Elementary School also testified on Wednesday and defended Furlong’s character.

“My observations were that he treated the children with respect,” said Sister Marie Melling, who worked at the school from 1967 to 1971.

Melling said she was not aware of Furlong ever using a strap to discipline children, though she said it would have been allowed at the school at the time.

She said she recalls one complaint about the former physical education teacher. She said a student formally grumbled that Furlong would make his class run uphill backwards and his legs were tired.

“I told him, ‘These are children,'” Melling said. “I also told him, ‘We are not training them for the Olympics.'”

Cpl. Quinton Mackie will be the next witness for defence. He was one of the RCMP officers responsible for investigating and ultimately dismissing allegations of sexual assault against Furlong.

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Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press