In October 2014, independent journalist Jesse Brown with the assistance of the Toronto Star published anonymous allegations that CBC star radio host Jian Ghomeshi had physically and sexually assaulted three women. Within a week, the number of anonymous women accusing Ghomeshi had grown to eight; by December, 15.
Ghomeshi, of course, was disgraced, fired and now faces five criminal charges from the Toronto Police.
Twenty-five months earlier, award-winning freelance journalist and author Laura Robinson, with the assistance of Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, published allegations, backed by eight sworn affidavits, that the former CEO of the Vancouver Olympics, John Furlong, had physically and psychologically abused at least eight Aboriginal children while working as a physical education teacher in Burns Lake, B.C. Since then, over 45 people, all Aboriginal, have come forward alleging that they suffered or witnessed Furlong’s abuse.
Almost two weeks ago, Furlong gave a press conference announcing that three individuals — none of whom were included in Robinson’s damning article — had charges of sexual abuse against him dropped. Despite the fact that these criminal cases were completely unrelated to the allegations reported by Robinson, Furlong announced that he felt “vindicated” and dropped his defamation lawsuit against her.
The lack of skepticism in the Canadian media’s reportage on this story is astonishing. Brown’s Canadaland podcast has done some excellent work in castigating the media for absolving Furlong while parroting his slander and denigration of Robinson. Virtually every mainstream media outlet in the country repeated Furlong’s interpretation of these events without deviation.
The Globe published an editorial by Gary Mason, who co-wrote Furlong’s biography Patriot Hearts, titled “Former Olympics CEO Furlong now in the clear, but the damage is done.” The Vancouver Sun, in an unsigned editorial, bellowed “John Furlong’s false accusers should suffer consequences” and repeats Furlong’s contention that his name should now be cleared. Maclean’s, The National Post, Huffington Post all joined in the exoneration refrain.
It’s hard to overstate this: the dropped cases bear absolutely no relation to Robinson’s story aside from the fact that they also accuse Furlong. Indeed, even the dropped cases do not vindicate Furlong. They simply indicate that these questions will not be settled in a court of law. But to parrot Furlong’s interpretation that the failure of two troubled individuals to show up in court proves that Robinson is an unethical journalist is appalling — and yet no one in the Canadian corporate or legacy media bothered to make this distinction.
John Furlong is a liar. I don’t know what happened in Burns Lake under Furlong’s watch — but as Brown says in a recent podcast — “I don’t know how you get 45 people to make false allegations.” We do know, however, that Furlong lied, on several occasions, about the date he came to Canada. He wilfully omitted his time at Burns Lake whenever he was asked to give biographical accounts. He claimed that Robinson approached the RCMP with criminal allegations against him even though he had no knowledge of that happening (which, in fact, it did not). In a recent interview, Paul Wells admitted he had put “a little asterisk” next to Furlong’s name in his head after hearing him misrepresent a heated encounter with a La Presse reporter during the Olympics.
Despite all of this, Furlong’s career is on the road to a full recovery while Robinson, instead of plaudits for publishing a once-in-a-lifetime story, sees her career in tatters. The different responses by the Canadian media to Brown’s exposé of Ghomeshi and Robinson’s of Furlong are nothing short of extraordinary.
What do we make of Canada’s embrace of Brown’s exposé and its exile of Robinson’s? The victims of the alleged abuses seems like a good starting point. In the original Star article on Ghomeshi, Brown and Investigative Bureau Chief Kevin Donovan referred to Ghomeshi’s victims as “educated and employed” (words which caused Brown later to express some regret). Furlong’s alleged victims are all Aboriginal. As Robinson herself puts it:
In terms of physical and physiological abuse, whether it was to them or they witnessed it. Way over 45 [people] now. You know, that’s more than two hockey teams. And I have to ask Canadians: if two white hockey teams said a coach had physically and psychologically abused them, I think we might believe them. And I think what Canadians need to ask themselves is, why when First Nations people allege psychological and physical abuse — why aren’t they believed?
And what of the reporters? Jesse Brown had a reputation as the gadfly of Canada’s media establishment long before he broke the Ghomeshi story. Yet even as he grew into his role as unofficial ombudsperson-cum-muckraker of Canadian journalism, those who found his style grating still managed to criticize him with a whiff of admiration.
Not so for Laura Robinson. Despite groundbreaking sports journalism, six books to her credit (including a 2011 Silver Medal from the ALA), and an honorary doctorate from York University, Robinson’s freelance career has “dried up, almost completely.”
Furlong’s unsubstantiated and frequently misleading accusations of Robinson have been routinely republished in newspapers across the country without comment. While Ghomeshi’s protestations that the Star exposé was the result of a “jilted ex” and a spiteful reporter were roundly condemned, Furlong’s almost identical and endlessly repeated defence — that Robinson is “malicious” and bears a “personal vendetta” — has been almost universally and uncritically accepted.
What, then, if the reporter who exposed Ghomeshi’s serial abuses had been a woman? Or his victims Aboriginal? With the unreported, unprosecuted and uninvestigated Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic currently facing Canada, I suppose we already know the answer, don’t we?
Last night, John Furlong spoke at the BC Maritime Employers’ Association 50th Anniversary Gala. Furlong can command as much as $25,000 for a speaking gig. He sits on the board for a junior gold mining corporation and is the chair of the Rocky Mountaineer’s board of directors. He is the Executive Chair of the Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club.
Robinson was paid $2500 for her original 2012 article with The Straight — and has spent well over $250,000 researching and defending it in court. She has a crowdsourced website funding her legal defence and countersuits against Furlong.
It should go without saying that Robinson’s remarkable story ought to have raised questions over Furlong’s received narrative, if not suspended his participation in public life until these allegations had time to breathe.
Instead, Canada’s legacy media clamoured to the defence of a good ol’ Canadian boy and ensured that the woman who challenged the status quo was punished.