A freelance journalist who wrote a lengthy article about John Furlong conducted a sloppy investigation as she attempted to "bring down" the former CEO of the Vancouver Olympics, Mr. Furlong's lawyer argued Wednesday.
And, though the story at the heart of the case did not mention sexual abuse, Mr. Furlong's lawyer grilled Laura Robinson about her role in one woman's decision to go to the RCMP with such an allegation.
Ms. Robinson wrote an article for the Georgia Straight, a weekly newspaper based in Vancouver, in September, 2012, that said eight of Mr. Furlong's former students alleged he had physically abused them. The allegations stemmed from Mr. Furlong's previously undisclosed time as a physical-education instructor in 1969-70 at Immaculata Roman Catholic Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C.
Ms. Robinson is suing Mr. Furlong over comments he made at a news conference the day the story was published. Mr. Furlong vehemently denied the allegations and criticized Ms. Robinson's reporting, saying she had a vendetta.
John Hunter, Mr. Furlong's lawyer, had his first opportunity to cross-examine Ms. Robinson on Wednesday and he questioned her motivation.
"Your whole intention throughout here was to bring down Mr. Furlong, wasn't it?" asked Mr. Hunter.
"That's incorrect," Ms. Robinson replied.
"He was one of those male authority figures that you liked to criticize and you thought you had the goods on him, didn't you?" Mr. Hunter continued.
Ms. Robinson again said Mr. Hunter was incorrect. Ms. Robinson has written extensively about women in sports and questioned why they don't hold more positions of power in organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA.
Mr. Hunter also questioned some of Ms. Robinson's tactics. He said she posted a notice in a Burns Lake newsletter, asking former students of Mr. Furlong to meet with her when she visited the community. Mr. Hunter said the notice mentioned Ms. Robinson was investigating abuse allegations.
"It identifies the nature of the investigation … and it identifies your target," Mr. Hunter said. "Isn't that the most unfair way that you can begin to conduct an investigation?"
Ms. Robinson did not directly answer. Mr. Hunter noted she was an hour late arriving at the Burns Lake meeting with former students, because her train was delayed. He questioned whether the people who were waiting for her spoke to each other while they waited.
"People were presumably chatting," said Mr. Hunter. "Doesn't this raise the danger of collusion?"
Ms. Robinson said she did not know what people said to each other before she arrived.
On the same day, the story was published by the Georgia Straight, the Anishinabek News – an Ontario publication that describes itself as "the voice of the Anishinabek Nation" – published a much shorter piece about Mr. Furlong. The piece was also written by Ms. Robinson and, unlike the Straight article, included a reference to the sexual assault allegation. It said one former student had told Burns Lake RCMP that Mr. Furlong had sexually abused her.
Mr. Hunter said Ms. Robinson knew the Straight and the Toronto Star – which had earlier agreed to publish the story but ultimately decided against it – weren't going to print articles that mention the sexual assault allegation.
He suggested she not only pushed for its inclusion, but also urged the woman who filed the complaint to go to the RCMP in the first place. Ms. Robinson denied that claim, and said the editor of the Anishinabek News made the decision to run with the sexual assault claim. She said such police investigations are often reported.
Mr. Hunter said Ms. Robinson also conducted a campaign to discredit Mr. Furlong in the community. The lawyer cited e-mails she sent to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, among others, asking for their response to the allegations against Mr. Furlong. Ms. Robinson said she was simply trying to obtain comment from people linked to Mr. Furlong.
Mr. Furlong has called Ms. Robinson "an activist" instead of a journalist. Mr. Hunter posed a question along that same vein, asking whether Ms. Robinson was carrying herself as a journalist "or something else." She said she was a journalist.
After Ms. Robinson's work was published, three people filed lawsuits against Mr. Furlong alleging he sexually abused them when they were students, including the woman who had gone to the RCMP. One of the lawsuits was abandoned, while the other two were dismissed.
The RCMP's investigations into the claims of physical and sexual abuse later concluded without charges.