News Brief

“I think it’s going to be very different”

Laura Robinson on how an upcoming hearing into the RCMP's investigation of allegations against John Furlong will be playing out in a new social context

In his 2011 book Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics That Changed a Country, John Furlong said that he moved to Canada from Ireland in 1974.

“A recruiter from a high school in Prince George, British Columbia, had come to Dublin in search of someone to set up an athletic program,” wrote Furlong, who would eventually go on to lead the organizing committee for Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics. “I was a young teacher with just two years’ experience. The job intrigued me.”

What he did not mention in the book was that he had previously come to Canada as a “Frontier Apostle” missionary in 1969, to teach physical education at Immaculata Elementary School in remote Burns Lake, B.C. When sports journalist Laura Robinson discovered the omission shortly after Patriot Hearts‘ publication (Furlong later described it as material that had been cut for length), she began pulling at the thread.

What she found were accounts describing a range of abusive conduct that Furlong had allegedly inflicted on First Nations students at Immaculata and, later, at Prince George College. Although neither were residential schools, and both had a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, “Native day students frequently experienced abuse from the same teachers, priests, and nuns as the residential students who were later compensated” by the government for their experiences, Robinson wrote in her 2012 investigation for Vancouver weekly The Georgia Straight. Both schools, and the Frontier Apostle program itself, were part of the Prince George Diocese overseen by Bishop John Fergus O’Grady, whose experience included over a decade as the principal of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, among others.

Furlong has strenuously denied all allegations concerning his conduct and has pointed to 2015 court decisions in civil suits against him that cast doubt on the claims of their respective plaintiffs.

CANADALAND first spoke to Robinson in 2014. This week on the show, we’re rerunning that interview, followed by a new conversation between her and host Jesse Brown about everything that has unfolded since:

From 2012 to 2014, the RCMP looked into claims against Furlong, ultimately closing the investigation without laying charges. But several of Furlong’s accusers have alleged that the investigation was discriminatory in its deficiencies, and now the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will be deciding whether that was the case — and whether to order a new investigation.

Here is an edited excerpt from Brown’s new conversation with Robinson:

There is a human rights complaint on behalf of some of John Furlong’s accusers, alleging that the RCMP failed in their duty to properly investigate these claims and that there was no small amount of racism involved in their failure to do so. What is the status of that human rights complaint right now?

Six members of the Lake Babine First Nation filed a complaint against the RCMP to the Canadian Human Rights Commission in January 2017. The Human Rights Commission said in June 2018, after the RCMP spent more than a year trying to persuade them not to investigate, that the RCMP’s arguments were speculative and misleading, and conducted a year-long investigation,

When I read the report — and it’s a protected report, I can’t share it with anyone — I saw what a real investigation from a federal body can look like.

The Commission does education and investigation, and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal holds the inquiries; they’re two independent organizations. The Commission told the Tribunal that an inquiry needed to be held into the allegations of racism and bias against the RCMP. And the complainants have said not only do they need to be compensated for this lack of service that wasn’t provided by the RCMP, but every single survivor of all the day schools in the diocese needs to be compensated and all 26 schools need to be thoroughly investigated.

When do we expect a final outcome of that process?

A final outcome, I’m not sure. But the date that the Tribunal has tentatively said they’re starting is January 11, 2022. So it’s coming up very quickly.

And the complainants have said the hearings need to be in Smithers, B.C. Of course, many people don’t have a vehicle. It’s Northern Canada in the winter. We’re arranging for transportation for them to Smithers. That’s the closest town to Burns Lake that has an airport and the kind of facilities necessary for a tribunal, like a large conference room.

Human rights tribunals are open to the public. I hope everyone up in Northern B.C. attends this one, and they’ve scheduled three weeks and then a three-week break and then another three weeks. So a total of six weeks of hearings.

The chair of the Tribunal, David Thomas, is hearing the case. Then there needs to be time for his decision. And then as a potential remedy, a complete reinvestigation of John Furlong, but not conducted by the RCMP. And as I said, a very thorough investigation of all 26 day schools.

And this complaint was written a year before the graves in Kamloops were discovered. And so now, of course, that investigation would take on a much greater purpose, beyond investigating abuse. It would go to who disappeared there.

This tribunal is going to play out in a very different context than the ordeal has thus far. It seems like perhaps Canadians are actually curious to know exactly what happened in these schools. I know that Immaculata was not technically a residential school, but it does seem like something has changed. Do you think it’ll be different?

I think it’s going to be very different.

And the graves, it’s such a terrible tragedy, but it is part of real Canadian history, and I’m really, really, really tired of the revisionist history that was passed around. Especially, I have to say, from the sports community that has supported Furlong all these years. I have always asked people in the sports community, why don’t you at least talk to the people of Northern B.C. and listen to their stories before you decide that they’re liars?

Top image composed of the top of the complainants’ statement of particulars in the Human Rights Tribunal application, along with an image of Robinson from a circa-2013 Global News video.

Latest Stories
Announcing Our 2024 Podcast Slate
Introducing CanadaLabs
What Twitter Was