Furlong/Robinson update

 

Furlong, Robinson and the Georgia Straight

UPDATE: Read below if you are unfamiliar with the case: John Furlong has dropped his suit against the Georgia Straight, but continues to pursue Laura Robinson in court action. This decision appears to verify his status as a bully, since the Straight would have the resources available to fight Furlong in the courts. Robinson, on the other hand, is not able to draw on the Straight’s insurance policy. Furlong, likely aware of her limited resources, would probably want to break her as an act of revenge. As to his showing up in an actual courtroom, I wouldn’t bet on it. Eight affidavits would be difficult to impugn.
Furlong also makes much of the RCMP’s announcement that it has not thus far been able to uncover evidence of sexual (as opposed to physical) abuse. First, Robinson never wrote about the sexual allegations, but Furlong tries to make it appear as if she did. Second, the RCMP has clearly indicated that the case is still being investigated. Also, given that the allegations stem from actions that took place some forty plus years ago, Furlong is likely betting that there will be confusion and inconsistencies that he can exploit.
Furlong’s methodology of using the courts in this way reminds me all to well of the way the Harper government stalls and obscures investigations of injustice through lengthy legal processes. (Of course, as in the Senate controversy, they also speed up processes when it suits their convenience.) In any event, the high and mighty in Canada evade reckonings until controversies blow over. Furlong has repeatedly delayed the paperwork necessary to pursue the legal action he is so ready to talk about.

 

John Furlong, the iconic figure behind Vancouver’s 2010 successful Winter Olympics, is suing Laura Robinson and the Georgia Straight for writing and publishing a supposedly defamatory article about him. The article alleges that in 1969 and 1970, as a volunteer Frontier Apostle brought over from Ireland by the order of Mary Immaculate (Immaculata School) in Burns Lake, BC, he employed physical brutality and racist taunts against First Nations children in his role as a teacher of physical education. The allegations of past abuse would never have surfaced were it not for the release of his self-serving autobiography, Patriot Hearts, in which he claimed to have immigrated to Canada from Ireland in 1972 and not 1969, which records clearly demonstrate. His former students concluded, rightly or wrongly, that when Furlong failed to include his earlier stint in Burns Lake, he was essentially denying their history.  While the Prime Minister may have issued apologies for past treatment of First Nations people, Furlong’s lacuna and subsequent denial (‘It never happened”) reminded them of the continuing problem of individuals in the dominant culture failing to take responsibility for past sins against them.

The question now in this case is whether Furlong has suffered a grievous injustice (as a National Post editorial and his lawsuit claim) or whether the children (now adults) of the First Nations community in Burns Lake suffered unjustly from his presence at the school. No doubt his lawyers will try to divide and conquer, looking for the inevitable inconsistencies in testimony that would arise after forty years. However, he will have to deal with sworn affidavits from abuse victims and finding motivation for Robinson’s supposed slanderous article and the Straight’s willingness to publish it. Robinson herself, it should be pointed out, has a long history of muckraking in the upper echelons of the sporting community, advocacy for First Nations people, and fostering the arts in native communities by enabling them to tell their stories.

Perhaps a greater problem for Furlong might be his life and character in the decades since his return to Canada. When confronted with the Robinson’s article, assuming the facts in it were verifiable, Furlong might have said that as a young man he had entered a culture where harsh physical discipline was the norm. He might then have issued an apology for what some would perceive as errors, and the scandal would likely have blown over. However, his outright denial and his minimizing the missing part of his autobiography (“nothing of interest” happened during that time) may be indicative of a large amount of hubris in his psychological profile. It may also indicate that he has other things to hide. Does Furlong’s life since Burns Lake indicate that he has grown out of such behaviour or does he continue to have problematical personal relationships, albeit relationships invisible to the outside world? For instance, how is he viewed by his former wives or partners or by those who have worked under him? No question that he has had great support from people who were part of the Olympic project and even from some people in Burns Lake and Prince George.  Has he, as a public figure, successfully covered up his dark side?

Then again is the whole story about his years in Burns Lake fabricated or hyped to bring him down from his lofty pedestal? Would those (eight and counting) native people be making up these stories and lying because they have some personal vendetta against him? We have a hint about his legal strategy from his public comments about Robinson. He claimed that she has a problem with male authority figures. Even Robinson admits she has a problem with male authority figures in the sporting (especially hockey) world who, through unbalanced power relationships and incentives, take advantage of their young charges. As a journalist and writer, Robinson did much to unveil the behind-the-scenes activities of the culture that produced Graham James and his young victims, including hockey stars Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury. Since it might be argued that someone who verbally abuses, kicks and beats children is as culpable as someone who sexually abuses them (and does just as much damage to their psyches), Furlong has no choice but to sue. Otherwise, if the public comes to believe the allegations, his life becomes a titanic lie and he will no longer be able to make a living on the public speaking circuit. Therefore, he will come at Robinson and the Straight with all the legal forces he can muster.

Whatever the actual outcome of the lawsuit, justice is at issue here. Any person severely slandered in this way needs justice to restore his tarnished image. On the other hand, the First Nations people cannot escape their existential predicament in one or two generations. They are dogged by the massive injustice of Residential Schools, fostered by religious orders and, in turn, supported by successive governments, that came into existence to purge them of their pagan pasts and bring them into the fold of the dominant Canadian (i.e. Christian) culture. Any attempt to deny this past reality is felt as a profound injustice and a denial of their reality.

Finally, was the Straight justified in publishing this article even if the allegations were true? Had Furlong not written the autobiography, would past transgressions needed to have been revealed, especially if he had completely turned his life around? Or was his offense criminal in nature and needing to be exposed under any circumstances? It’s a complex case that will have a ripple effect on future attempts in Canada to expose people’s past behaviour. It will also be a test of Canada’s relatively new and more relaxed libel laws.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a reply

Thank you, Brooklyn!

The people of Brooklyn have, for the second time in a three month period, turfed the District Attorney, Charles “Joe” Hynes. An African American lawyer, Ken Thompson, beat him soundly in the Democratic primary, only to have Hynes switch parties and run against him as a right wing Republican. The people of Brooklyn were rightfully outraged and voted Hynes down, 75% to 25%, on Election Day. Hynes was vain enough to think that law enforcement in the ‘borough’ would be harmfully impacted when Thompson, who lacked administrative experience, took over his office. Yes, after twenty-five years and at the age of 78, Hynes had gotten a sense of entitlement, indispensability,  and invulnerability characterized by his belief that the primary loss was the result of low voter turnout.”They love me,” his thinking must have gone, “But they didn’t realize that I might actually lose.” If you scratch the surface, Hynes was exhibiting a form of insidious racism, enough removed from saying the “N” word so that it might have been unrecognizable to the casual observer. What he was actually saying is that the primary loss was really the result of African Americans getting out and voting as a bloc. Hence, he was calling on white people to restore him to his rightful throne. And he didn’t shy away from hinting at “criminal elements” in Thompson’s election committee.

Hynes, despite some impressive accomplishments over twenty-five years, presided over sixty plus active and ongoing wrongful convictions, so many that one can only wonder if Thompson might be forced to fast track exonerations and/or ask for pardons. Hynes also pandered to the leadership of the orthodox Jewish community, covering up allegations of child abuse in return for electoral support. This man and his retinue, including John O’Mara, head of the “Conviction Integrity Unit”, have deservedly been shown the door. O’Mara and his fellow ADA’s, including Ruth Ross and Ken Taub, played a significant role in the continued incarceration of David McCallum, exhibiting either spectacular tunnel vision or the grossest kind of self serving willful ignorance. Certainly, they blocked any chance for David to have his case heard and for Willie Stuckey to have posthumous justice. They also conspired to deny David any chance for parole.

Ken Thompson has promised that wrongful convictions will be his first order of business. This breath of fresh air is welcomed by Innocence International; we only ask for a hearing into David’s case to show that his conviction was wrongful in the extreme. Justice can still be served, even at this late date.