ROBINSON/FURLONG CIVIL SUIT PROCEEDINGS: BC SUPREME COURT
I was in attendance (June 17th) for the third day of hearings into journalist Laura Robinson’s defamation suit against former VANOC CEO, John Furlong. Robinson claims to have had her freelance income reduced by some 40,000 dollars a year as a result of the litigation brought against her by Furlong who denied the accusations of physical, emotional and racial abuse brought against him by seven former students at the Immaculata School in Burns Lake, B.C.
Furlong’s lawyer, John Hunter, is making a case that Robinson had an “obsession” and engaged in a vendetta against his client and, by extension, “male authority figures”. His singular focus was on the unproven allegation of sexual abuse by Beverley Abraham, a former student. Whether to avoid the trauma of a hearing or whether she lacked evidence or confidence, I really don’t know, but Abraham dropped the criminal charge. For Hunter, the dropping and vacating of all three sexual assault charges against Furlong is their strong point. The physical, emotional and racial abuse charges were conveniently ignored by the lawyer. In making them irrelevant, the strategy employed becomes clear: Robinson would not be happy with any story unless the sexual abuse charges were left in. Since these charges turned out to be false, unsubstantiated or withdrawn, Robinson could be painted as an angry, vindictive, irresponsible and overly ambitious journalist.
Two major issues now dominate this civil trial. Number one is the history of abuse against First Nations people in Canada, wherein such actions were more or less routine and where such accusations were routinely dismissed. Robinson was approached by these very people to set the record straight. That she would advocate for Beverley Abraham is perfectly natural in this context. She was chosen to be their voice in the case where a powerful man like Furlong was in denial of the other substantive allegations against him. Furlong has not done a mea culpa, in fact has insisted from day one that “This did not happen.” Robinson could not sort out one denial (physical, emotional and racial) from another (sexual). Yes, she did push the sexual abuse allegation because, at the time, she believed Ms Abraham. Isn’t any good reporter “obsessive”? The major journals she contacted on behalf of the Georgia Straight refused, just like the Straight, to publish the sex allegations.
Issue number two is the subtext of the proceeding. It’s not mentioned but it is most definitely present. Robinson is being attacked as a woman, a woman who hates men (never mind just “men in authority positions”). Her wanting to include criminal allegations against Furlong, instead of being based on her concern that Beverley Abraham had been silenced, becomes instead a need to subvert and destroy a well connected pillar of the sports community, i.e. John Furlong.
Now we are supposed to feel sorry for this poor put upon individual who, as a physical education teacher, humiliated his students. My take is that, as a very young man, he was not fully in control of himself. Okay, so own up to it. He was part of a culture of abuse; everyone knows that schools with native children were abusive. Even the Chief Justice of the SCC. But rather than admit to a flaw, Furlong denied and still denies, erasing another small bit of native history. And this man hating woman, Laura Robinson, is portrayed as the real culprit!