The former head of Vancouver’s Olympic organizing committee is defending himself against allegations that he abused native students more than 40 years ago in B.C., and says he has urged police to investigate the claims.
“I categorically deny absolutely any wrongdoing,” John Furlong said at a packed news conference on Thursday.
The allegations in a story published in the Georgia Straight have raised questions about the public face of Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Games – a man whose immigrant success story and motivational style have made him a star on the speaking circuit.
In the article, author Laura Robinson quotes several people who allege Mr. Furlong physically and verbally abused them at a school in Burns Lake, B.C., where he was teaching around the early 1970s.
Ms. Robinson also wrote that while Mr. Furlong has said he arrived in Canada in 1974, he actually came here in 1969 as a missionary to teach at a school in Burns Lake, B.C., and spent several years in the province before returning to Ireland and then immigrating to Canada.
Mr. Furlong addressed that discrepancy on Thursday, saying he hadn’t mentioned his time in Burns Lake in his 2011 memoir, Patriot Hearts, because it was “fairly brief and fairly uneventful.” The book was written with assistance from Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason.
Mr. Furlong said he has been to Burns Lake – about 230 kilometres northwest of Prince George – many times since and brought the Olympic torch relay through the community.
In a brief statement, the RCMP confirmed it is investigating the allegations.
Lake Babine Nation chief Wilf Adam said he planned to issue a formal statement on Friday in support of band members who say Mr. Furlong abused them.
Mr. Adam suggested that the allegations are coming to light after about 40 years because Mr. Furlong didn’t mention his time in Burns Lake in the memoir.
“The issue here was the book and its failure to mention Burns Lake,” Mr. Adam said. “He [Mr. Furlong] has to be truthful and honest about what happened.”
At the news conference, Mr. Furlong’s lawyer, Marvin Storrow said legal action was pending as a result of the article.
Ronnie Alec, a hereditary chief of the Babine First Nation, said he prepared an affidavit for the Georgia Straight about Mr. Furlong last May based on encounters when Mr. Alec was 15.
Mr. Alec, now 55, said Mr. Furlong kicked him in the back and struck him in the back of the head while coaching basketball.
On Thursday, Mr. Furlong suggested there was an attempt before the Olympics to blackmail him over the allegations.
“On the very first occasion that this was brought to my attention prior to the Olympics,” he said. “I was advised that for a payment it could be made to go away. And as such I reported this to the police.”
Mr. Furlong said Ms. Robinson had shown a “shocking lack of diligence” in researching the article.
“In terms of due diligence, I have been researching that story since the fall of 2009,” Ms. Robinson said in an interview. “Every single thing in there, I have proof of.”
In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith defended Ms. Robinson.
“The story was backed up with eight sworn affidavits,” he said. “Marvin Storrow did not make Mr. Furlong available to respond to questions from the journalist, Laura Robinson.”
Dave Cobb, deputy CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, said allegations are entirely out of character for the man he worked with.
“I spent more time in a six-year period with him than I did with my wife. I never saw him treat anyone with anything less than the utmost respect,” said Mr. Cobb, now a managing director of corporate development with the Jim Pattison Group.
“It certainly is not the person I saw in John. You’re talking about someone with a massive heart.”
Mr. Furlong did not speak of his time in Burns Lake the during the writing of the memoir, Mr. Mason said.
“In any discussions we had for the book, I can say that John never mentioned a previous stint in Canada before his more broadly known arrival in 1974,” Mr. Mason said. “As for the allegations levelled against him, all I can say is they don’t line up in any way, shape or form with the man I have come to know. I expect he will fight them with every bone in his body.”
Mr. Furlong is now executive director of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Through a spokesman, Burns Lake lawyer Warren Chapman, who has been acting for some of the parties in the matter, said he had no comment on Mr. Furlong’s news conference.
- With reports from Mason Wright in Toronto and Andrea Woo in Vancouver