News Brief

“I Remember John Furlong”

John Furlong, a man accused of abusing aboriginal children, is staging a comeback. His accusers, now grown, have been excluded from national media coverage of his return to public life. In what has become a battle between John Furlong and Laura Robinson, the voices of eight First Nations individuals have been excluded, omitted and ignored. Yet none of them have recanted their allegations. CANADALAND presents their words now.

TRIGGER WARNING: this article describes alleged instances of child abuse and sexual abuse. 

“When I first saw him on TV for the Olympics…I was just tearing up inside. John Furlong thought we forgot everything…” – Maurice Joseph

John Furlong, a man accused of abusing aboriginal children, is staging a comeback.

Yesterday Furlong gave a keynote speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, titled “UNBREAKABLE,” for which he billed himself “the ultimate crisis manager.” The Vancouver Sun and the National Post ran a profile of Furlong to coincide with the event, describing him as a “heroic figure.” In the piece, Postmedia sports columnist Cam Cole wrote that “one by one, the allegations, which had first appeared in the Georgia Straight newspaper, fell apart when tested by the courts.”

This is inaccurate.

None of the allegations included in the Georgia Straight article by Laura Robinson have been tested in court. There were, however, two independent civil claims against Furlong, ultimately dismissed, which were brought by individuals who were not written about in the Georgia Straight article.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 11.42.02 AM_0

Cole wrote that the story “turn(ed) out to be untrue.” The National Post headline declared the abuse allegations are “false.”  Again, no court has ruled on the veracity of the Georgia Straight claims.

The only trial that took place involving the Straight accusations was a libel case against Furlong by journalist Laura Robinson, which Robinson lost. When Robinson reported on the allegations against Furlong in the Straight, Furlong publicly criticized her, calling her an “activist” on a “personal vendetta.” On September 18 2015, Madam Justice Catherine Wedge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that because Furlong was defending himself against a serious attack, he did not need to be “accurate” in his comments about Robinson or to “require proof.”

The voices of the accusers who Robinson wrote about were excluded from this trial. They signed sworn affidavits about the abuse they say they suffered when they were students at Immaculata school under Furlong’s care. In doing so, they exposed themselves to criminal penalties of up to 14 years in prison if they were ever found to have perjured themselves by making a false claim. These affidavits were called “hearsay” by Justice Wedge and were not admitted into evidence. Justice Wedge did, however, admit expert testimony from a “false memory” expert who challenged the credibility of the prohibited accusations, and from a nun who worked at Immaculata school, who also challenged the veracity of their claims. Because Immaculata was a catholic day school and not technically a residential school, alleged abuse is not addressed by the Truth and Reconcilliation commission, and compensation for abuse claims is not available to former students.

John Furlong has never faced his accusers in a trial, but has called their allegations “lies.” In his piece, Postmedia sports columnist Cam Cole did not interview any of John Furlong’s accusers before writing that their claims are “untrue.”

In what has become a battle between John Furlong and Laura Robinson, the voices of eight First Nations individuals have been excluded, omitted and ignored. Yet none of them have recanted their allegations.

CANADALAND presents their words now.

John Furlong, through his attorney, declined to provide further comment to CANADALAND, and has asked that we refer readers to Justice Wedge’s Reasons for Judgement.

Beverly Mary Abraham:

video credit: CBC/The National/Duncan McCue

I remember John Furlong. The first thing I remember about him is coming to our school in 1969, I believe. I was eleven at the time. At that time he was our PE teacher. He worked us to the bone. His attitude was very bad. “You good for nothin’ Indians — come on, come on. If you don’t do this you’re going to be good for nothing.”

We had to do 30 rounds of the field. We had to run up Boer Mountain, several kilometres. He would salute the white kids only when they got to the top. If we didn’t go fast enough he would take us to the gym and make us do push-ups. He would stand over us. If we didn’t complete it he would take his big foot and slam us down on the floor. It really hurt our chests. A couple of times he grabbed us on the front of the chest, “Do you have it? Do you have it?!” he asked the girls. Young girls started drinking. Friends started drinking at age 12. I do believe it is because of his abuse.

He would say to me, “You’re my favourite princess” and then he would grab me by the breast. We were the ones who always were at the end of the 30 rounds. He would say, “Beverley you stay behind and you girls get back to your class.” He would caress my face and say, “You’re my prodigy. You’re my favourite out of all the girls. He’d put his hands on my cheek and then put his hands down to my breasts.”

At the time I thought he was to be a good man. I thought he was using training to do good. He said, “You Indians have to learn to do good.” When I could finally go Sister Marcelle used to strap me after that because I was late. I would say, “Mr. Furlong made me stay.” She would say “Why?” I lied and said, “To do push-ups because I didn’t finish them.” I lied and did not tell her the truth. He did that for a few years. “You’re my favourite.” I asked “Why?” He said, “Look how cute you are.” At that time I did not even know what sexual abuse was. One time I remember when Margaret Cook, his girlfriend, came in. I do believe she caught him caressing me. John pretended to give me a real big slap — “Get back to your class!”

I drank a lot of after that. I turned to alcohol. He really degraded our name and our inner-self. No wonder they called us drunks. Why did we drink so hard?

Every time I started phys-ed I was honestly always afraid. He stood by the change room door. Sister Marcelle would say, “Okay girls, come on.” We were just afraid to go. He used to grab some of the butts. I can’t count the amount of times he did that to me. If we didn’t do what he said he’d grab us by the shoulders. “Do you understand me?!” He smacked us in the back and in the front.

I also remember walking home with my sister and her hands were so blistered because John Furlong beat her. I had to wait for her to walk home because we missed the bus because he called her to the foyer of the school. I snuck back into the school to wait for her and all of a sudden through the window I could see what he was doing. She was kneeling there while he strapped her hand. He made her kneel in front of him. I was crying looking through the window. She wouldn’t let him make her cry and he made her hands all red and blistered.

She told our mom and dad and next day they spoke with the priest Father Silke, but nothing was done. In those times parents were very Catholic. They did talk to Father Silke about it. But it’s just bad when we’re walking home, when something so overwhelming like that, you want to forget, you want to leave it, put it behind you.

Screen shot 2015-11-25 at 7.41.05 PM

view original affidavit (link)

Beverly Abraham filed a sexual abuse complaint with the RCMP in July 2012. In April 2013 the RCMP sent a letter to John Furlong informing him thay they “concluded their investigation” of him and “found nothing to substantiate” Abraham’s complaint. They later said that her account contained inconsistencies.  Abraham filed a civil suit against Furlong in which her counsel accused the RCMP of failing to contact witnesses or investigate fully. Abraham withdrew her civil claim against John Furlong in December 2014, following the death of her brother, citing the stress of the lawsuit.

Catherine Dora Woodgate:

video credit: CBC/The National/Duncan McCue

I was born on December 21, 1961 at Burns Lake Hospital and I attended Immaculata School from kindergarten to grade eight, approximately from 1966 to 1973. John Furlong was my physical education teacher for two years.

This has been a nightmare for me. Staff at Immaculata School were mean to us as students. When John Furlong came that was when I really felt that it was hopeless for us as kids. John came as single; he was very tall, blond and was in good physical shape. John took us as mixed grades at times like grades four and five: boys and girls mixed. He would single out people who were slouching or fat and say a joke about them so the whole class would laugh. He made many nasty remarks.

John went with one of the teachers, and they got married in Burns Lake. I think her maiden name was Cook – Margaret Cook. I didn’t go to the wedding, but recall seeing photos, and I think they were also in the newspaper.

The school had a large gymnasium with a stage. To warm up he always started the class running around the gym. He played loud music at times and would either stand in the centre of the gym or sit on the stage and watch us. We would try to focus on his actions because we were scared of him. At times he carried a yard stick or one of the thin pointers used in class. While running in circles if we were slow — like myself, or turned to watch him, he would aim at one of us and hit us hard. He hit us so hard it would make us fall.

He ran up behind, either hit us on the calves or throw the whole yardstick at us and make us fall. Whoever watches this gets yelled at. When John did basketball if we didn’t catch on or mess up, he would aim the ball hard and hit us. He didn’t care where as long as we got knocked down and he never misses. I would always end up getting hurt.

I was slow and weak when running in circles, throwing a ball and catching a ball. I got hit by a ball, whipped in the calves, yardstick thrown at me — all by John Furlong. I was very shy, very low in self-esteem. I grew up with low self-esteem and decided not to take part in any physical activities because of this nightmare of phys ed class. I wanted to take nursing, but he said I had to be in good shape, so I couldn’t do it. By grade 10 I was so low in self-esteem.

I told my daughter I was embarrassed because I was the slow one — I didn’t know I was sick, but even the ones who were healthy, he hurt them too.

Through tests of my weakness, I was diagnosed with Fasciohumeral Muscular Dystrophy, which I was born with. For this reason did this man have any right to hit us for being slow? I was just slow for a reason and I got hurt for that. That’s not right as I look back today. This man has a family. How dare he touch helpless kids? There is a lot of pain out there about this guy. I just couldn’t believe that this was John Furlong on TV. It’s almost like a hidden secret being revealed.

If he knows what he’s done at least it will put a sense of guilt in his life. It will show him the number of lives he’s touched and destroyed. We were really marked kids.

It could have been so much fun for us kids. We should not have feared and had to watch our backs. There was so much fear in that school.

Screen shot 2015-11-25 at 7.42.59 PM

view original affidavit (link)

Ronnie Patrick Alec:

Screen shot 2015-11-25 at 7.44.11 PM

image credit: CBC/The National/Duncan McCue

I was born December 16, 1957 at Burns Lake Hospital and raised Lake Babine First Nation. I attended Immaculata School Parish from kindergarten to grade 9, which was approximately from 1963–4 to 1974; I remember John Furlong arriving between 1969 and 1970 as the physical education teacher. My experiences with Mr. Furlong include both phys ed classes and time periods when he patrolled the hallways and in the outdoor facilities of the school.

I remember Mr. Furlong administering the following abuse:

When you’re not doing too good in basketball all of a sudden you get kicked in the butt or slapped on the head. It was a hard kick and he backed up to make the slap so it hit hard. He could stand in front of us and unexpected, he would slap us on the head. He would yell if we didn’t play basketball properly. With his big eyes I can picture him and then next thing — boom, a hard slap to the head. These abuses occurred during the two years I had Mr. Furlong as a physical education teacher and while he disciplined outside of physical education.

I witnessed the fight between Mr. Furlong and Stephen Donald in the gym. Stephen Donald was another student my age and in my class. This occurred during basketball. Stephen Donald could not take the abuse against him — kicking him and slapping him and watching Mr. Furlong do this to other students. Finally he could not take it anymore and they both fought in the gym;

Most of the time we tried to stay away when he was around as we know how he is. The students went through a lot so we try to stay away when he’s around the school. Every time when the students see him we walked away;

All the things that we went through — abuse — I just flashback on what we went through with the nuns and Furlong in Immaculata days. That day when Vancouver had the Olympics and he was the CEO, I saw that fellow on TV. It’s just like a flashback. To see this guy’s picture on the news was painful;

That day when I got his number and left my name and number on his answering machine, there was no response. I never had a phone call from him. But the word went out right away about Vancouver. We were surprised about this guy. That’s when all us — the things that bothered us. What all the students went through after Immaculata days, they started turning to booze, we talk about what happened to us;

The Olympics for me triggered anger.

Screen shot 2015-11-25 at 7.41.05 PM

view original affidavit (link)

Ronnie West:

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 2.06.17 PM

I remember John Furlong chased me home one day.”

I attended Immaculata School from 1966 to 1974 from kindergarten to grade eight. In 1969 and 1970 John Furlong was the phys ed teacher at that school. I was a good athlete and he did not make any problems for me. I witnessed, however, the abuse of Danny Morris, the late Verna Joseph being kicked in the ass for not running quickly enough. He threw basketball so hard at kids that it was enough to knock them down. This was a frequent practice of Mr. Furlong. He also verbally abused children with a lot of yelling;

My sister, Cathy Woodgate, came home a lot and complained to my parents about the abuse she was receiving from Mr. Furlong. My father, William West, came to the school and spoke to Father Silke about Mr. Furlong’s abuse. I believe my parents kept my two sisters, Cathy and Nancy, home from school often because of the physical and verbal abuse from Mr. Furlong.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 2.19.15 PM

view original affidavit (link)

Richard Perry:

John Furlong was my physical education teacher. He was rough with us, hitting us too with the basketball and other things. When there were kids they were kicked around by him.

Sometimes I can’t see too well on books. I tried to learn again to read. I was hit on the head all the time. I was hit with a ruler — a metre stick in the legs. I remember one day talking to another Native person in my language. I said, “What are you learning in school?” John Furlong hit for me for that. Those days there was not too much learning. They made us read the Bible and if we didn’t read it right they hit us for that. They called us demons when we talked our Native language. They said the Bible would cure that. But the Bible says Love thy neighbor; treat little children properly, so why did they do that? A lot of Native people didn’t learn much; some did and I am proud of them.

I remember John Furlong chased me home one day. My father came and talked to Father Silke. Another time he took me to a private room where the furnace was. It was really noisy so no one could hear. He took Sister Alphonse too with the strap. I watched them take us kids one by one to the basement and beat us. I got too much abuse; too many hits all the time. I told my father and grandfather and they went after the Father about John Furlong.

They gave us the big medicine-like horse pills — big vitamins. They made us swallow it. They made us stand there and they had a ruler there. If we didn’t swallow it, they’d hit us. “Hurry up” they said. It made me throw up.

I am a hereditary chief and have been asking for an investigation of Immaculata and John Furlong for a long time. You have to help people. Each one of the Natives here. We need to help each other.

Screen shot 2015-11-25 at 7.45.46 PM

view original affidavit (link)

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 2.03.31 PM

Pius Samuel Charlie:

I attended Immaculata from 1965 to 1975, from kindergarten to grade 8. John Furlong was my phys ed teacher. During his phys ed teaching — this is where I first met him. I can remember him throwing basketballs at the kids and hitting them with the metre stick. At Immaculata the nuns were very hard on the Native children. I remember one time the nuns shaved the heads of the boys and cut the hair of the girls. At one time we were fed what looked like dog biscuits. The nuns during this time made the Native children brush their teeth with salt and water. During school detentions the nuns made the students stand with their backs to the wall for hours. Also the students had to sweep up around their desks on their hands and knees, using their hands as the broom and the dustpan;

Sister Marcelle must have enjoyed strapping Natives. They used a belt that was about half an inch thick and about two to two and a half feet long. Students held out their hands with palms down and take whatever came via punishment. Sometimes I remember students were brought into the boiler room. One time I was brought in there and given the strap. I remember being hit with the strap and it hurt many times over and over. It still bothers me to this day;

I could not go to the RCMP about the abuse because, they came and got us when we didn’t go to school. They were like the truant officer;

Mr. Furlong still lingers in my mind. Mr. Furlong was a PE teacher — Natives were treated like cattle. During the run he would go behind the slowest person and he would strap the person with the metre stick. I attended Immaculata School which is located at 248 3rd Ave. Some part along the way it made me lose my identity as a Native person. We were strapped for speaking our Native tongue. Henceforth I don’t speak my Native tongue. Mr. Furlong was part of the problem at Immaculata;

When I was young and living in Burns Lake British Columbia I was not allowed in certain stores and was not permitted to walk on the same side of the street as white people, as I am a First Nations person;

During our school field trips to other places, we had to sit at the back of the bus.

View original affidavit (link)

Ruby Helen Adams:

I was born on May 18, 1958 at Burns Lake Hospital and attended Immaculata School from grade three to grade seven, which was approximately from 1967 to 1971;

I remember John Furlong. It was between grades five to seven. He used to be a PE teacher and if they don’t listen, he hits them with a ball real hard. I witnessed this on several occasions while he was my phys ed teacher. I was not one of the children he hit, but I was afraid of him. I stood away far from him in phys ed. Outside of phys ed I avoided him because I did not want to get hit;

We were really abused at Immaculata. There was a strap made from a fire hose. It was really thick. Just being with other children who get in trouble meant I too got the strap. The Sisters administered the strap. Sometimes even sitting in the washroom Mrs. O’Sullivan would come in with the ruler and go underneath the doors with the metre stick and hit us hard on the legs.

Sometimes at recess we hid in the boiler room so no one would abuse us. There was no one to defend us. Most parents were devout Catholics and were too afraid to say anything. Mostly the staff at Immaculata were mean to us. I don’t know how we took it;

I believe I have low self-esteem. Sometimes I do not feel good about myself. I believe that watching others being abused; being strapped myself and being afraid of being hit; having to hide because we were afraid all contributed to my low self-esteem. Most of us who survived Immaculata turned to drinking and tried to block those memories;

Watching John Furlong on TV made me mad, the way he acted like he was an important person. But what he did to the kids was wrong. I didn’t look at it because I was so angry.

View original affidavit (link)

“John Furlong thought we forgot everything, but we still know lots of things about him.”

Maurice Patrick Joseph:

My family lived at Pendleton Bay, and my brother, Paul Joseph and I were taken by plane. We attended Immaculata School from 1966 to 1972 and had John Furlong as a phys ed teacher for two years. He was rude and mean with us, slapping us on the head, kicking us in the butt when he decided we were not obeying him. The hockey rink was behind the school and when he thinks we’re not listening to him, he hits us with the hockey stick behind our back. Father Silke, our priest, was the hockey coach before and did not hit us with hockey sticks or do any other physical abuse. Then when John Furlong became the coach, this changed and he was doing that or other forms of abuse just about every day;

If he was not being rude to us — both verbally and physically — then he was doing it to other kids;

He gave us a brushcut and I didn’t want mine. They used pussy willow branches to whip us in the back if we did not sit on the chair for the brushcut;

When I first saw him on TV for the Olympics, I started thinking back and thought “That John Furlong who was so bad to us now runs the Olympics. I wish I could just take him to court and do something about it. We need to get on this; say something about what he did to our people in Burns Lake.” It really touched me when I first saw him. I felt I wish I was there; I wanted to pay him back for what he did. I was just tearing up inside. John Furlong thought we forgot everything, but we still know lots of things about him.

View original affidavit (link)


with files from Bob Mackin

Latest Stories
Dear Taliban (Extended)
Announcing Our 2024 Podcast Slate
Introducing CanadaLabs