Former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong defamed freelance journalist Laura Robinson by portraying her as a cruel activist who had contempt for male authority figures and tried to extort money from him, Ms. Robinson's lawyer told a court in his closing argument.
But Mr. Furlong's counsel countered that his client was only responding to a false and incendiary attack, calling a story Ms. Robinson wrote about him "irresponsible journalism," and arguing that "if you're going to dish it out, you better be prepared to take it."
A B.C. Supreme Court judge heard the closing arguments in the defamation case on Friday. She reserved her decision and did not indicate when it will be delivered.
Ms. Robinson sued Mr. Furlong over his response to a September, 2012, newspaper article that alleged he abused students when he was a physical-education instructor at Immaculata Roman Catholic Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C., in 1969-70.
At the time it was published, Mr. Furlong said the article showed a lack of due diligence. He also accused Ms. Robinson of having a vendetta.
Ms. Robinson has alleged Mr. Furlong also implied she tried to extort him.
Bryan Baynham, one of Ms. Robinson's lawyers, told the court that statements Mr. Furlong made from September, 2012, to December, 2013, "were defamatory both in their literal meaning and in their inferential meaning."
Mr. Baynham said those statements fall into three categories. He said Mr. Furlong described Ms. Robinson as an activist instead of a journalist, said she brought a complaint to the RCMP on behalf of someone she interviewed when she did not, and implied she tried to extort money from him in exchange for not publishing the story.
Mr. Baynham said the extortion allegation was the most serious and that Mr. Furlong had many opportunities to set the record straight, but did not. Mr. Furlong has denied he was referring to Ms. Robinson when he publicly said he had been told a payment would make the matter "go away."
John Hunter, one of Mr. Furlong's lawyers, said Mr. Furlong is entitled to a defence of qualified privilege, meaning he was allowed to respond to an attack against him as long as he was not malicious. He said Mr. Furlong's goal was to protect his reputation and his family, not to harm Ms. Robinson.
Mr. Hunter said the work of responsible journalists is important and needs protection, but that this case is about irresponsible journalism.
Mr. Hunter argued it was fair for his client to refer to Ms. Robinson as an activist. He said Ms. Robinson has been described as such by several publications and has not taken issue.
Mr. Hunter went on to say it was similarly fair for Mr. Furlong to claim Ms. Robinson filed a sex-abuse complaint with the RCMP on behalf of someone she interviewed. He said Ms. Robinson may not have walked into the RCMP office, but she "encouraged and pressed" the woman to file the complaint.
Mr. Hunter accused Ms. Robinson of a sustained, unrelenting attack against his client that continued for more than a year after the article was published. He asked Ms. Robinson in cross-examination if Mr. Furlong was one of the male authority figures in sports that she liked to criticize. Ms. Robinson has written extensively about women in sports and questioned why they do not hold more power in international organizations.
The story about Mr. Furlong was published in the weekly newspaper Georgia Straight. A shorter version ran in the Anishinabek News. The Georgia Straight story mentioned only allegations of physical abuse, while the Anishinabek News story included an allegation of sexual abuse.
RCMP investigations into physical and sexual abuse concluded without charges.
Mr. Hunter alleged Ms. Robinson turned to the Anishinabek News after it became clear the Straight would not publish the sex-abuse allegation. He said she was "desperate" for it to surface.
Mr. Baynham argued that Mr. Furlong should not be able to use qualified privilege as a defence because he was not attacked. If Mr. Furlong is allowed to use qualified privilege, Mr. Baynham said, his statements were not reasonably appropriate and showed "reckless disregard for truth."
Mr. Baynham argued that Mr. Furlong was motivated by malice, which defeats defences of qualified privilege and fair comment.
He said Mr. Furlong had many opportunities to respond through his lawyer before Ms. Robinson's work was published, but did not.
Mr. Baynham said a ruling against Ms. Robinson could mean "open season" on freelance reporters and have a chilling effect that would leave information vital to the public interest unpublished. He said his client is entitled to special, general, aggravated, and punitive damages.
Mr. Hunter said Ms. Robinson's case should be dismissed with costs.
Ms. Robinson testified earlier in the case and said she was shocked by Mr. Furlong's response to her work. She has said her story was deeply researched, pointing to the fact she had eight sworn affidavits.
Mr. Furlong testified he and his family have suffered greatly since Ms. Robinson's work was published. He said he was humiliated and essentially became a recluse.