VANCOUVER — John Furlong has always maintained his innocence, and describes allegations of abuse made against him as “horrible, heartless lies.” The embattled sports figure, best known for directing Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Winter Games, now has one fewer accuser.
Late last week, a First Nations woman named Beverly Abraham withdrew a lawsuit and allegations of sexual abuse that she had levelled at Mr. Furlong.
Ms. Abraham claimed in a July 2013 notice of civil claim filed with B.C. Supreme Court that Mr. Furlong had “sexually molested” her “approximately 12 times,” from November 1969 to May 1970, while she was a young student and he was a teacher at Immaculata Roman Catholic Elementary School in Burns Lake, in the B.C. interior.
Ms. Abraham told the CBC that she withdrew the lawsuit after seeking advice from local hereditary chiefs. “I’ve asked them what should I do, because it’s been stressing me out and this has been years,” she told CBC reporter Jason Proctor, in a story published Tuesday. “So what they told me is just forgive him, and leave him up to God.”
Two other First Nations members who attended Immaculata elementary in 1969 and 1970 also filed lawsuits last year, with their own accusations of sexual and physical abuse directed at Mr. Furlong. He denies all of the allegations.
Jason Gratl, a Vancouver-based lawyer who has acted for all three accusers, says he no longer represents Ms. Abraham and a second claimant, Grace Jessie West. He is in the process of formally withdrawing as counsel for the third claimant, Daniel Morice. Mr. Gratl could not say whether Ms. West and Mr. Morice will proceed with their lawsuits.
All three lawsuits were filed in B.C. Supreme Court following an incendiary article about Mr. Furlong and his Burns Lake teaching days, published in the Georgia Straight, a Vancouver weekly newspaper. Written by Ontario-based sports journalist Laura Robinson, the September 2012 article included allegations from eight former Immaculata students — including Ms. Abraham — of physical and verbal abuse by Mr. Furlong. None of the accounts described in the article included sexual abuse.
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Mr. Furlong held a press conference immediately after the Georgia Straight story was published and denied the allegations. He then filed suit against the newspaper and Ms. Robinson, accusing them of defamation. Last year, he withdrew his claim against the newspaper and said he would “escalate” his lawsuit against Ms. Robinson, whom he went on to label “a long-time activist” who “masquerades as a responsible journalist” and who is on a “vicious campaign” to destroy his reputation.
No trial date has been scheduled for Mr. Furlong’s defamation case against Ms. Robinson.
Ms. Robinson is herself suing Mr. Furlong for defamation. She told the National Post in an email Tuesday that a June 2015 trial date has been reserved in B.C. Supreme Court. “I very much look forward to the trial so I can get on with my life,” she wrote, “and hopefully the [former] students can get on with theirs.”