June 23, 2015 - 7:00 AM
VANCOUVER - For a payment of $5,000, John Furlong testified he was told that allegations he physically abused a former student decades earlier could be made to "go away."
Furlong told a civil court trial that the bribery attempt came just months before the 2010 Winter Olympics, as the former Vancouver Games boss was preparing for the international sporting event.
"That stunned me. It was a shocking moment. I sat at my desk and I wondered, is this about embarrassing me or embarrassing the Olympics?" Furlong told B.C. Supreme Court on Monday.
Furlong was testifying in his defence against a lawsuit by freelance journalist Laura Robinson. She is seeking damages for defamation over comments Furlong made after she wrote two articles carrying allegations about him.
The stories made allegations of abuse related to Furlong's work decades before as a physical education teacher at a Roman Catholic school mostly attended by First Nations students in British Columbia's Interior.
Some of the defamation allegations arise from comments by Furlong made during a news conference in late September 2012, and included his reference to the bribery attempt.
Robinson's lawyer previously told the court that Furlong had implied she had attempted to extort money from him in exchange for not publishing the story.
Furlong testified that a former Olympics staff member had approached him in the latter part of 2009, saying he had met someone who claimed he'd struck her. Furlong said he replied that if a former student had a "bad experience," he would like to meet them. He was also offered the opportunity to pay $5,000.
He told the court he immediately phoned the head of integrated security for the Olympics, who suggested he make a report to the Vancouver Police. But in addition, he said another high-ranking Olympics official, Dan Doyle, arranged a meeting with the woman at a home in the Vancouver neighbourhood of False Creek.
"I certainly don't remember anything about her. I certainly don't remember ever strapping anybody, because we weren't allowed, and if there was going to be strapping it was going to be the principal. And I had never even seen that," he said, describing the meeting as "dignified."
"The one interesting thing that occurred at the meeting was that Dan Doyle asked, 'Are you suggesting some sort of sexual thing?'
"She said, 'Oh no, nothing like that.' The meeting concluded and we shook hands and we went away."
Robinson's main story, published in the Georgia Straight newspaper, included affidavits from eight former students during Furlong's time at Immaculata School in Burns Lake, B.C.
During his testimony, Furlong recalled the volunteer teaching stint between 1969 and 1970 as "absolutely fantastic."
"It was a very happy place. I enjoyed every minute and when I left, I thought for the rest of my life this would be just a warm memory for me."
Instead, he said that waking up to learn allegations against him were being spread around the world was the "worst morning of my life."
Furlong's lawyer is arguing his client was legally entitled to respond to the "sustained and unrelenting attack" on his character starting in the spring of 2012.
John Hunter told the trial that Robinson used her position as a journalist, and the privilege of the courts, to make untrue allegations.
Last week, the Ontario-based journalist testified that Furlong's public comments have damaged her reputation, career and health.
Furlong testified that he dropped his own defamation case against the woman after his reputation had been restored when one woman abandoned her allegations and the courts dismissed two other lawsuits against him.
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2015