Letter to The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sports: Lake Babine First Nations and John Furlong

Hello Honourable Qualtrough,

I am a Vancouver lawyer (UBC LLB 1975), I have practised as a labour arbitrator since 1990, and my book on wrongly convicted Ivan Henry was published in 2014: https://www.amazon.ca/Innocence-Trial-Framing-Ivan-Henry/dp/1772030023

Six long months ago, I assisted Cathy Woodgate in writing a letter to PM Trudeau saying that, until and unless the members of Lake Babine’s First Nations are heard regarding whether or not John Furlong abused them (as a volunteer RC missionary in Burns Lake Immaculata Elementary school in 1969-70), he should be asked to stand down from his position as chair of “Own the Podium”.

That letter has since been passed from The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould to The Honourable Carolyn Bennett to The Honourable Melanie Joly…. and now to you, The Honourable Carla Qualtrough.

To say the least, this is a most unfortunate state of affairs.

Surely, Cathy Woodgate—a committed elder, advocating on behalf of the Lake Babine “day school survivors”—is entitled to a response without further delay.

Instead, John Furlong continues to ostensibly enjoy the favour (indeed highest plaudits) of our federal government. For instance, his name was twinned with Minister Qualtrough’s in this Globe and Mail article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/carla-qualtrough-appointed-to-federal-cabinet-in-gold-medal-day-for-sport/article27113619/

If you really care about establishing and nurturing trustworthy relationships with our First Nations people, please LISTEN to them before continuing to give John Furlong a free pass.

June 23rd—International Olympics Day–is fast approaching.

This problem cries out to be dealt with before then.

Regards, Joan

Two articles of interest as background:

http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/11/26/opinion/waiting-be-heard-claimants-versus-john-furlong;
http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/12/15/opinion/colour-blind-truth-you-still-dont-know-about-reconciliation

#Furlong. The Path to Truth and Reconciliation

Yesterday, I received this powerful letter from Kenneth Young, a lawyer and a residential school survivor. The letter is filled with grace and simple truths.

Joan, it is a sad when people of influence who have done wrong fail to accept responsibility for the harm their wrongful actions have caused.

John Furlong must know in his mind that he did a lot of harm to young people he was entrusted to provide guidance. He will face further scrutiny in the coming months as the class action on day schools is worked on as to how it will be settled. If it will result in an agreement like the Indian Residential School Settlement with an adjudication process, I am sure the students he now stands accused of abusing will most certainly be claimants in which he will be most surely a person of interest.

My advice to Mr. Furlong is he reach out and call for a healing circle in which he will face his accusers and deal with the hurt and harm he has caused them, now to himself and those people who are most close to him.

If he chooses this path I believe his journey back to respectability will be one where he will be received by most people with open arms. It will be a journey, when taken with the right steps and attitude, that will bring true healing and reconciliation for himself and those he has harmed. Through this acceptance of what he did to those young innocent people was wrong John Furlong, I am confident, will learn the magnificence of the patience and kindness of First Nations people.

In saying this, I as a survivor of 10 years of Indian Residential School life, have been able to forgive the church and state for this very dark chapter in my life. It was not easy but the church and state reached out and this has helped me to carry on with my healing journey which will, I have now accepted will be a lifelong inner process. Mr. Furlong can do no less if wants to reinvigorate his life.

Letter from John #Furlong’s former students to PM

November 26, 2015

Attention: The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 
justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca

The Honourable Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould 
mcu@justice.gc.ca 

The Honourable Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Carolyn Bennett
carolyn.bennett@parl.gc.ca. 

Dear Sir/Madams:

Re: Burns Lake First Nations People and John Furlong

It’s time that our voices are heard.

We, the undersigned, call upon the Prime Minister to request that John Furlong step down from Share the Podium until we are heard.

In her September 2015 judgment, the judge made comments about us without hearing from us. No-one had time to listen to us. They should have talked to us before any decision was made.

The judge said Laura Robinson distributed a flyer, but we saw no flyer. We communicate not in writing, but by mouth. When we heard Laura was coming to Burns Lake, most people assumed it was to talk about residential schools. Laura talked to those people and, after they left, she talked to us—those of us who had had Mr. Furlong as their PE teacher. Many of us—-members of the Lake Babine Nations—-were not at the Burns Lake Band office.

The judge said Laura “contaminated” our memories. But she didn’t. We all have bad memories of Mr. Furlong, but over the years we haven’t talked much about them. It would be good if we talked more together.

When we saw him on TV, the anger came back. “Is he still around?” we thought. After the Olympics, we found out he hadn’t even mentioned Burns Lake in his book.

Someone said Laura damaged us. That is not true. Mr. Furlong was one who damaged us. He was part of a system that damaged our dreams.

Someone on the Whitecaps said on the Internet, “native people just want more money.” We never asked for money. We just wanted our stories heard.

Please direct your reply to Cathy Woodgate—cathywoodgate@hotmail.com.

Thank you.

Signed,

“Hereditary Chief Richard Perry”
“Hereditary Chief Ronnie Alec”
“Henry Michel”
“Maurice Joseph”
“Cathy Woodgate”
“Ronnie William West”
“Beverly Abraham”
“Pius Charlie” (Burns Lake Band)
“Molly Charlie
“Frank Alec”
“Ann Tom”
“Ruby Adam”

Copies to Media: Jesse Brown, CanadaLand jesse@jessebrown.ca
Sandra Garossino, National Observer info@vancouverobserver.com
Jenny Uechi, Vancouver Observer jenny@nationalobserver.com
Matthew McKinnon,The Walrus matthew@thewalrus.ca
Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee andrew@andrewnikiforuk.com
Bob Mackin, The Tyee bob.mackin@mac.com
Charlie Smith, The Georgia Straight c_smith@straight.com
Natasha Hassan, The Globe and Mail comment@globeandmail.com
Michael Harris, I-Politics michaelharris@ipolitics.ca
Michael Huffington Post Canadian blog team, cablogteam@huffingtonpost.com
Jesse Kline, The National Post jkline@nationalpost.com
Kate Heartfield, The Ottawa Citizen kheartfield@ottawacitizen.com
Jordan Himelfarb The Toronto Star oped@thestar.ca, jhimelfarb@thestar.ca
Daphne Bramham The Vancouver Sun dbramham@vancouversun.com
Harvey Enchain,Vancouver Sun henchin@vancouversun.com

First Nations v. John Furlong: “Waiting to be Heard”

Today, November 26, 2015, the National Observer published my article entitled “Waiting to be Heard” (http://bit.ly/21iC9Ly)

Here it is:

On September 18, 2015, Madam Justice Wedge of the B.C. Supreme Court dismissed an action brought by investigative journalist Laura Robinson against John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympics.

Furlong declared himself vindicated and, on October 30, Geoff Plant, the former Attorney-General of B.C., wrote in the Globe and Mail that a door had closed on a particularly nasty part of Furlong’s life—nasty in that he had been unfairly vilified by Robinson.

Opinions differ on the judgment, but one thing is clear: The voices of the First Nations alleged victims have never been heard. Yet, though not a single one of these people has testified in court, they have been discredited—both by the judge and in the court of public opinion.

A thumbnail sketch of the chronology is in order.

In September 2009, shortly before the February 2010 Olympics, Robinson received a tip that Furlong had worked as a Catholic missionary somewhere in Northern B.C. when he originally came to Canada. Finding nothing on the Internet about that, she dropped the matter.

In February 2011, while writing a review for his book Patriot Hearts, co-authored by journalist Gary Mason, it struck her that certain information regarding his background, arrival in Canada, and work experience appeared to be missing or did not make sense. Her research revealed that he had come to Canada as a Frontier Apostle missionary, and had taught at a Catholic elementary school in Burns Lake (1969-1970) and, from there, a Catholic high-school in Prince George.

In April 2011, Robinson wrote the review as well as an op-ed for the Danish organization, Play the Game.

After interviewing by phone eight people, Robinson travelled from Ontario to Burns Lake in April 2012. She took statements from eighteen individuals who alleged abuse by Furlong at one or both of the schools.

On September 26, 2012, the Georgia Straight published her article, “John Furlong Biography Omits Secret Past in Burns Lake”—featuring allegations of psychological and physical abuse (only) against Furlong.

On November 27, 2012, Furlong sued Robinson for defamation (Furlong v. Robinson). In his Notice of Civil Claim, Furlong asserted that the First Nations’ allegations of abuse were without merit. In Robinson’s Defence to Civil Claim, she relied upon the statutory declarations sworn to by eight of the former students.

On March 31, 2015, Furlong dropped his lawsuit against Robinson.

Meanwhile, Robinson, having sued Furlong in January 2014 for defaming her (Robinson v. Furlong), pressed forward with her suit. The two-week trial (which I attended) took place in June 2015. (In that second action, Furlong raised, as part of his defence, the disposition of the one criminal complaint and three civil suits brought against him in respect of alleged sexual abuse. Those matters, however, formed no part of Robinson’s Georgia Straight article, the article on which Furlong’s lawsuit was based.)

Among my many concerns with Madam Justice Wedge’s decision is this. Notwithstanding the narrow issue at trial—Did Robinson’s attack on Furlong justify his counter-attack?—the judge remarked at length on the overall unreliability, given the many years that had passed, of the First Nations’ accounts of alleged abuse.

Geoff Plant described the judge’s decision as “careful” and “methodical”; said that it amounts to a “textbook on how not to do investigative journalism.”

However, a central conclusion of the decision was that Robinson, prior to going to Burns Lake for the first time, had “telegraphed her intentions” by causing a notice to be posted “announcing the subject of her investigation—childhood abuse—its location, its timing, and the identity of the alleged abuser.” The judge also accepted the testimony of Dr. John Yuille, the memory expert called by Furlong, who said that, by arriving an hour late in Burns Lake, Robinson gave those who were waiting the chance to “contaminate” each other’s memories.

Memory contamination is a common concern where, for example, multiple victims of sexual assault, usually strangers whose only connection was being victimized in this way, are left together to discuss what happened to them. However, the alleged victims in this case—many of whom are related—lived in close proximity on a reserve for over forty years following the conduct in issue. Can it seriously be argued that being notified ahead of time and being left alone for an hour “contaminated” their memories?

Geoff Plant further wrote that “they (the RCMP) discovered no reliable evidence to support the claims [sic] of abuse.” In fact, the RCMP looked into only one case—the criminal complaint referred to above.

After reading the Supreme Court judgment, I resolved to travel to Burns Lake myself—to hear, first-hand, the stories of the former students. Given the incendiary nature of the sexual abuse allegations, and because they were not part of Robinson’s Georgia Straight article, I chose not to explore that issue in my discussions.

In the near-two dozen interviews I conducted between October 4 and 8, I heard accounts consistent in every respect with those contained in the eight statutory declarations filed in the Furlong and Robinson aborted proceedings.

The stories of abuse I heard brought tears to my eyes.

Stories that, to this day, are deeply etched on the distraught faces of the people telling them.

Without exception, I found each of the First Nations persons with whom I spoke to be thoughtful, reflective, and believable. (I am a lawyer and have practiced for the past twenty-five years as a professional labour arbitrator.)

From their telling, the pain flowed not only from the abuse itself, but also from the fact that, apart from Robinson, no one cared enough to listen (Canadaland’s Jesse Brown has just posted affidavits on his website).

When told about the judgment, they were shocked. How was it possible, they asked, that the judge could reach such a decision without ever hearing from them? No-one in the media asked for their reaction. It felt, to them, as though they did not exist.

Plant wrote that Robinson’s announcement that she would not be appealing the decision was “both graceless and unrepentant.”

On October 19, Robinson announced that, although she had received legal advice supporting an appeal, “Appealing the decision will not accomplish my original goal of sharing the stories of Indigenous people.” What she said was true. When Furlong discontinued, in March 2015, his action against Robinson, he removed the opportunity for her to tell those very stories; to give their version in response to Furlong’s blanket denial.

Was Furlong’s decision to discontinue his action any less “graceless and unrepentant” than Robinson’s decision not to proceed with an appeal?

More significantly, Plant stated that Robinson caused “brutal harm” to “those former students who were victimized by her zealotry.”

After reading the article, I contacted the First Nations people to ask for their comments. Without exception, they said that Robinson was there to “help them talk about their stories;” that, finally, they had “someone who cared enough about us to want to hear our stories.”

Hereditary chief Richard Perry said he appreciated that Robinson was prepared to listen. Hereditary chief Ronnie Alec said that, though his people have always tried to avoid talking about their abuse at the hands of the Oblates, seeing Furlong on TV (before the Olympics) “stirred up bad memories, gave us flashbacks about what he did to us… Laura didn’t feed us information, and she didn’t make us feel worse. She just listened, and we told her the truth.” Cathy Woodgate described her as “caring, willing to listen, and very sensitive.”

Indeed, the members of the Lake Babine Nations were so grateful for Robinson’s efforts that, when she returned to Burns Lake a third time, they congratulated her on her story.

It is obvious that Plant has never spoken to, let alone met, any of Furlong’s former students. If he had wished to speak for the First Nations claimants, he should have talked to them first.

Indeed, anyone wishing to speak in the future on their behalf would be well-advised to do likewise.