John Furlong remains as a director of Whistler Blackcomb after he was accused last week of abusing students at a Burns Lake Aboriginal day school 40 years ago.
The unproven allegations, contained in affidavits by ex-students, were the basis of a Georgia Straight feature story last Thursday (Sept. 27) about the Vancouver 2010 Olympics chief executive. One person filed a sexual assault complaint with the RCMP, according to a subsequent CBC report.
"I categorically deny absolutely any wrongdoing,” said Furlong, now the Vancouver Whitecaps’ executive chair, while reading a prepared statement at a Sept. 27 news conference in Vancouver. “It just didn't happen.”
RCMP confirmed the same day there is an ongoing investigation into the complaints.
Furlong came from Ireland to Burns Lake in 1969 and was a physical-ed teacher at Immaculata Elementary School. His post-Olympic memoir, Patriot Hearts, makes no mention of Burns Lake. It said he moved to Canada in 1974, when he arrived in Edmonton and settled in Prince George. Furlong said at the news conference his time in Burns Lake was “brief” and “uneventful.”
Furlong did not answer questions at the media gathering. He went on to say that he first learned of the allegations prior to the Olympics and was told “that for a payment it could be made to go away,” though he did not make it clear who made that proposal.
Furlong’s lawyer, Marvin Storrow, said Furlong plans to sue reporter Laura Robinson and the Georgia Straight for defamation. Robinson said she would countersue over suggestions by Furlong that she has a personal vendetta and did not conduct adequate research.
Furlong was appointed two years ago to the board of directors of Whistler Blackcomb. VANOC paid Whistler Blackcomb $32.1 million in compensation after it hosted alpine skiing and sliding sports in 2010. Asked whether Furlong continues to have the support and confidence of the Whistler Blackcomb board, investment relations director Jeremy Roche said: “We are aware of the allegations concerning Mr. Furlong. Mr Furlong continues to be a director of Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc.”
Robinson’s story claimed there were further inconsistencies in Patriot Hearts. In the book, Furlong recounted how his father, Jack Furlong, identified the body of cousin Siobhan Roice after she died in a May 1974 Dublin terrorist bombing. Robinson interviewed Furlong’s cousin Jim Roice, who said his father Ned Roice went to the morgue, not Jack Furlong.
A Globe and Mail article published Monday (Oct. 1) included an interview with another former Irish national who said she was with Furlong in Burns Lake in 1969 and that the VANOC CEO met his first wife there.
Furlong issued a “final statement” on Tuesday (Oct. 2), in which he confirmed that he would seek a retraction, apology and monetary damages via legal action. The statement also addressed some of the inconsistencies between his book and the article’s content, and painted Robinson as a writer with “open contempt for the Olympic Games and male authority figures in sport.”
“The past five days have been humiliating and demeaning beyond anything my family and I have ever experienced,” Fulong said in the statement, adding that he “cared deeply for the students” he taught in Burns Lake.
“I treated everyone in a fair, appropriate manner and at no time unlawfully or harmfully.”
Furlong’s book, written with Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason, was published in 2011 to coincide with the first anniversary of the Games. Shortly after the article was published last week, Mason quickly came to Furlong’s defence on his Twitter account.
“Like many, it was not easy to see JF have to stand up there in the face of allegations ... As I say, none of this jives in any way with the man I know,” wrote Mason.
In the time since the Olympics, Furlong has garnered a number of accolades and honours, including being named an Officer of the Order of Canada and to the Order of B.C. in 2010.
—With files from Eric MacKenzie