Six Northern British Columbia First Nations members are accusing the federal government and RCMP of racial and ethnic discrimination for bungling their allegations of abuse against Vancouver corporate director John Furlong.
Maurice Joseph, Emma Williams, Dorothy Williams, Richard Perry, Ann Tom and Cathy Woodgate filed a complaint Monday (December 5) with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
“Although the government failed to acknowledge, let alone investigate, our concerns regarding alleged abuse by John Furlong, it has favoured Furlong in ways that have silenced and re-traumatized us,” said the complaint by the ex-Furlong students. “Neither the Public Safety Ministry nor the RCMP provided a service to remedy this situation.
“Instead they treated us in an adverse and differential manner. The denial of a service, and treatment in an adverse and differential manner are both prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Code.”
The six say they are disappointed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who came to power promising a new relationship with aboriginals, never responded to their November 2015 open letter that sought Furlong’s removal from the chairmanship of Own the Podium, the federally funded organization that supports medal-contending Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Instead, they say the government supported Furlong to become chair last July of a Canadian Olympic Committee task force formed to help Calgary explore a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Furlong is also the executive chairman of the Vancouver Whitecaps, chairman of Rocky Mountaineer Railtours and a director of Canadian Tire. He was a director of Whistler Blackcomb until Vail Resorts’ US$1.06 billion takeover earlier this year.
Furlong has vehemently denied the allegations of abuse since they were first published in a September 2012 Georgia Straight story by journalist Laura Robinson. Furlong’s 2011 Patriot Hearts memoir included an autobiographical chapter that omitted his 1969 entry to Canada as a volunteer gym teacher at a Catholic elementary school for aboriginals in Burns Lake, B.C. He sued Robinson and the newspaper for defamation, but later dropped both lawsuits. After the RCMP investigated and chose to recommend no charges against Furlong, three ex-students filed civil lawsuits, but none of those went to trial. Robinson unsuccessfully sued Furlong for defamation in 2015; the judge in that trial refused to admit evidence from the abuse claimants.
On July 13, the Assembly of First Nations resolved at its annual convention to urge the federal government and RCMP to thoroughly and impartially investigate the allegations of abuse and urge the government to meet with anyone affected to hear their concerns about the conduct of the investigations and to discuss acceptable remedies.
After the ex-students published their open letter in 2015, Furlong’s lawyer Claire Hunter said in a statement that “Mr. Furlong has consistently stated that he is innocent of the alleged abuse and each allegation that has been subject to investigation by the RCMP or finding of the courts has been found to be unsubstantiated.”
"The statements of [Beverly] Abraham, [Grace] West and [Daniel] Morice were the only three statements obtained by Ms. Robinson that were even minimally tested in a way that we, as a society, believe our system of justice requires when a citizen faces such serious and devastating allegations. All three proved to be unreliable.”