Georgia Straight could use responsible communications defence in lawsuit by former Vancouver Olympics boss

Former VANOC CEO John Furlong makes statement during a new conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday September 27, 2012,



VANCOUVER -- A Vancouver newspaper facing a defamation suit brought by the man who headed the organizing committee for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games could use the defence of responsible communications, legal experts say.

The defence says a newspaper must be acting in the public interest when it published a story and was diligent in verifying the allegations.

John Furlong has named reporter Laura Robinson, Charlie Smith, an editor with the Georgia Straight, publisher Daniel McLeod, and the Vancouver Free Press Publishing Corp., in the suit filed in BC Supreme Court.

The legal action follows a story the Georgia Straight published on Sept. 27 alleging Furlong physically and verbally abused First Nations children while working in Burns Lake, BC, as a teacher in the late 1960s. Furlong did not mention his time in Burns Lake in his book Patriot Hearts.

"This is an action for damages and injunctive relief in respect of defamatory statements," the suit reads.

It's also alleged Robinson repeated the defamatory remarks in e-mails to Own the Podium, a federal sports funding agency.

In writing her story Robinson received affidavits filed by several people reporting abuse.

The suit says the Georgia Straight story is "false and defamatory" and Robinson "knew or ought to have known" the affidavits "were not reliable."

Furlong has been brought into "public scandal and contempt" the suit says. He's suffered loss of income and earning capacity.

Vancouver lawyer Ravi Hira said he could not comment directly on Furlong's suit. He did point to a 2009 Supreme Court of Canada decision where responsible communication was a defence.

"It's applicable where the publication is on a matter of public interest and having regard to the relevant factors, the publisher was diligent in trying to verify the allegations," Hira said.

"The publication must have conducted some ... diligent investigations. It's up to the jury or the judge to determine whether those investigations are diligent or not for this defence to apply."

In an e-mail, Robinson said she had not talked to her lawyer so had no comment over the suit. Smith also declined to comment.

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