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Past VANOC CEO John Furlong sued by former students

Two women who were physical education students of John Furlong at a Burns Lake, B.C. Catholic elementary school sued the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics CEO on July 24, alleging he physically, psychologically and sexually abused them more than four decades ago and defamed them last September.

The two civil claims (available here and here) filed in B.C. Supreme Court by Vancouver lawyer Jason Gratl, also name the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver and Diocese of Prince George and the Catholic Independent Schools Diocese of Prince George as defendants. The lawsuits claim parents confronted Furlong and school and archdiocese officials at the time about the alleged abuse, which caused the victims anxiety and depression.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

"This is the first we've heard of it and we have no idea why we're being included in the suit," Archdiocese of Vancouver spokesman Paul Schratz told The Tyee.

The lawsuits come almost 10 months after the Georgia Straight's expose by Laura Robinson about physical abuse allegations against Furlong and omissions from his Patriot Hearts memoir about his actual arrival in Canada. Furlong's 2011 published book said he arrived in Canada in fall 1974 at Edmonton, but he came to Canada from his native Ireland as a teenage missionary in 1969.

The separate lawsuits say the plaintiffs, who are now 55 and 53 years old, were "intimidated by the defendants and their influence" and generally disempowered by geographic isolation and racism. They were unaware that they could bring legal action against Furlong, but sought legal advice after Furlong's news conference on Sept. 27, 2012 in which he denied the allegations contained in the Georgia Straight story.

The filings claim the incidents happened between 1969 and 1970 at the Immaculata Catholic elementary school, and include graphic emotional, physical and sexual abuse allegations. The non-residential school primarily for First Nations' children was shut down in 1986.

Furlong emphatically denied the Georgia Straight story last September but admitted he was in Burns Lake and Prince George between 1969 and 1972. He called his initial three years in northern B.C. "uneventful." The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed it was investigating allegations against Furlong.

"There is no update to our investigation, (it) remains ongoing," RCMP spokesman Sgt. Rob Vermeulen told The Tyee on July 24.

Furlong filed a Nov. 27, 2012 defamation lawsuit against the Georgia Straight and Robinson, claiming the story caused personal and professional harm, including cancelled speaking engagements.

Robinson's Jan. 21 B.C. Supreme Court statement of defence included new allegations that Furlong beat his first wife Margaret when they lived in Prince George from 1970 to 1972 and that he raped an unnamed common-law spouse whom he lived with in Nanaimo between 1979 and 1982.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

The day after Robinson's defence statement, Furlong's representative TwentyTen Group called the allegations "completely unfounded" and said Furlong was "confident he will ultimately be vindicated."

"He will be making a full and complete response to these allegations, as with Ms. Robinson's previous allegations, in the course of the litigation commenced by him against Ms. Robinson last fall," said the TwentyTen Group's Jan. 22 statement. "His legal team will be filing a formal response in court in the coming days."

That rebuttal has not yet been filed with the B.C. Supreme Court by Furlong or his lawyers, John Hunter and Claire Hunter.

A Jan. 23 statement attributed to "The Furlong Family" called the allegations "unsubstantiated."

"This is not objective journalism, but self-serving sensationalistic misuse of the media. Obscene accusations and innuendo have now been printed nationwide and nothing could possibly undo that."

Furlong remains the executive chairman of Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps, chairman of Own the Podium and Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, and a director of Whistler Blackcomb and Canadian Tire. Furlong was awarded the Order of Canada and Order of British Columbia in 2010 and holds honorary degrees from the University of B.C., Justice Institute of B.C. and B.C. Institute of Technology.

Furlong has kept a low-profile since the Georgia Straight story. On April 11, Furlong's third wife, Deborah Sharp, died in a head-on crash near their house in rural Gorey, Ireland. Irish police continue to investigate.

In July, Furlong joined the advisory board of Arian Resources Corp., a junior Vancouver gold mining company that is exploring in Albania.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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