Skip to main content

Former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong, left, and Renee Smith-Valade arrive at B.C. Supreme Court for the fourth day of a defamation case brought against Furlong by journalist Laura Robinson, in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday June 18, 2015.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A freelance journalist continued to attack former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong even after her initial article was published, pressuring organizations he was involved with to sever ties and writing a paper that contained untrue allegations, Mr. Furlong's lawyer argued Thursday.

Laura Robinson wrote an article for the Georgia Straight, a weekly newspaper based in Vancouver, in September, 2012, in which eight people alleged Mr. Furlong physically abused his former students. The allegations stemmed from Mr. Furlong's previously undisclosed time as a physical-education instructor at Immaculata Roman Catholic Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C., from 1969-70.

Ms. Robinson is suing Mr. Furlong over comments he made at a news conference the day the story was published. Mr. Furlong vehemently denied any wrongdoing and criticized Ms. Robinson's reporting, saying she had a vendetta against him.

On Thursday, the defamation trial heard about e-mails Ms. Robinson sent to an aboriginal news website and to a B.C. First Nation in June, 2013. In the e-mails to NationTalk and the Musqueam Indian Band, Ms. Robinson asked questions about a "First Nations evening" that was being held by the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team. Mr. Furlong is the team's executive chair.

John Hunter, Mr. Furlong's lawyer, said NationTalk removed its post about the event after Ms. Robinson's inquiries. The lawyer questioned Ms. Robinson's motivation for the e-mail to the band.

"You were hoping that the Musqueam would withhold support for this First Nations evening with the Whitecaps?" Mr. Hunter asked.

Ms. Robinson said she was only hoping the parties would respond to her e-mails and explain their decision-making process, for an academic paper she was working on. She said both the band and NationTalk were capable of making their own decisions about the soccer event.

Mr. Hunter, at one point, asked Ms. Robinson if she was trying to pressure the Whitecaps into severing their relationship with Mr. Furlong. She said no.

Mr. Hunter also referenced e-mails Ms. Robinson sent to various organizations Mr. Furlong was linked to, including Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Tire, Whistler Blackcomb and Rocky Mountaineer.

In correspondence with Own the Podium, Ms. Robinson asked about its relationship with Mr. Furlong. She said she planned to name its board members in an academic paper but ultimately did not. When asked if she was trying to pressure the board, Ms. Robinson said she was trying to have her questions answered.

Mr. Hunter said Ms. Robinson read the paper at a conference and it contained mistakes. For instance, it identified a woman who had never filed a lawsuit against Mr. Furlong as having done so.

Ms. Robinson said she had believed the woman filed the suit. She said she contacted the organization behind the conference, Play the Game, and had them edit the paper on their website once she learned of the mistake.

Mr. Hunter also asked Ms. Robinson about an incident with a Vancouver Olympics spokeswoman, when a case involving women's ski jumping and its exclusion from the Games was being heard in the B.C. courts. Ms. Robinson called the spokeswoman a "traitor to women." Ms. Robinson testified that she regretted the encounter.

Ms. Robinson has said she was shocked by Mr. Furlong's comments after her story was published. Mr. Hunter at one point asked what she had expected Mr. Furlong to say.

"Did you expect him to send you flowers?" Mr. Hunter asked.

"I expected him not to lie," Ms. Robinson replied.

Bryan Baynham, Ms. Robinson's lawyer, told the judge Ms. Robinson did not have a vendetta and was just a journalist doing her job.

Ms. Robinson said she received additional information about Mr. Furlong in the months following the Georgia Straight story, including at least 10 on-the-record statements. The information was never published.

The trial began Monday and is expected to run for two weeks. Mr. Baynham said his case could be wrapped by end of day Friday, with the// Georgia Straight's editor expected to be his last witness. Mr. Furlong is expected to testify some time next week.

Court has heard the Georgia Straight had hoped another media outlet would partner in the investigation of Mr. Furlong. Both the CBC and Toronto Star initially agreed, before backing out.

Mr. Hunter noted that an e-mail from a CBC reporter to Ms. Robinson in June, 2012, conveyed a producer's concern she had become "part of the story." The reporter said paying Ms. Robinson for the information she provided would be problematic.

Ms. Robinson, in response to a question from Mr. Hunter, said that did not cause her to question her approach. She said she instead realized CBC had the affidavits and other information she had provided and no longer needed her.

Court also heard more Thursday about Ms. Robinson's finances. She had previously said her income plummeted following Mr. Furlong's comments about her, from about $52,000 in 2011 to about $10,000 in 2014.

Mr. Hunter said Ms. Robinson's 2011 income was an outlier, aided in part by a lawsuit involving multiple authors. He said Ms. Robinson's net income in 2010 was in the negative.

Interact with The Globe