VANCOUVER — Former Vancouver Olympics CEO John Furlong did not defame a freelance journalist who reported on allegations he abused First Nations students, a judge ruled Friday.
British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge has released her written decision in a defamation lawsuit filed by freelance journalist Laura Robinson.
Wedge said she found no evidence that Furlong was motivated by malice and accepted his defence of qualified privilege, meaning he had the right to defend his reputation.
She said the issue in the legal action was whether Furlong was entitled to respond in the way he did to Robinson’s published stories.
The woman’s articles could not be fairly characterized as simply reporting on another persons’ allegations against Furlong, her ruling stated.
“Rather, the publications constituted an attack by Ms. Robinson on Mr. Furlong’s character, conduct and credibility.”
Furlong issued a statement that said he was pleased with the ruling and thanked his family, friends and supporters for standing by him.
“In my heart, from the day this nightmare started, I knew truth would prevail. Now it has,” he said.
“What happened to me should not happen to anyone. I’m relieved this nightmare is over and that my family, friends — and others in difficulty — can see in a matter such as this it is possible to prevail and survive.
“I now look to the future, to continue my work in the Canadian sports system and rebuilding my career.”
Robinson wrote a 2012 article published in the Georgia Straight newspaper that included sworn affidavits from eight former students who alleged Furlong beat and taunted them at a B.C. school in 1969 and 1970.
Furlong launched a lawsuit against Robinson for defamation and she filed a counter lawsuit, alleging he had damaged her reputation in public statements after the article was published.
Furlong dropped his legal action against Robinson when the last of three lawsuits alleging sexual abuse was dismissed, but Robinson pressed ahead with her suit.
Robinson said in a statement that she would have preferred a different result and will take time to review the decision with her lawyer before she considers future options.
“What I will say is that I fought this case through trial because I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are vital to an open and democratic society.”
She said the three-year battle has taken a great toll on her physically, emotionally and financially, but her principles still stand.
She thanked those in her stories ” who had the courage” to her about their past and allow it to be part of the Georgia Straight story.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press