Court dismisses defamation case against former VANOC CEO
Canadian Supreme Court rules against freelance journalist Laura Robinson, who loses defamation suit against former VANOC CEO John Furlong after three years of legal battle.
After 2 months of deliberation, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge on Friday 18 September 2015 delivered her verdict in the defamation case launched against former CEO of the Vancouver Winter Games 2010, John Furlong, by freelance journalist Laura Robinson.
In January 2014, Robinson filed a defamation suit against John Furlong over statements he had made about her in response to an article that Robinson had written about Furlong’s first years in Canada. In the article, published in Canadian newspaper The Georgia Straights, Robinson presented allegations that Furlong had abused First Nations children while working as a physical educations teacher at a Catholic School in the late 1960s.
After the article appeared, Furlong initially sued Robinson for defamation but later dropped the suit after a series of suits of sexual abuse raised by former students against Furlong were dismissed in court.
According to Robinson’s civil claim, the statements made by Furlong were defamatory and claiming that she was leading a ‘personal vendetta’ against Furlong, not being ‘diligent in her research’ e.g.
In her decision to dismiss Robinson’s claim, Judge Wedge underlined that the issue of this case was not about what legal rights a journalist has to publish information about matters of public interest, but “whether Mr. Furlong was entitled to respond in the manner he did to Ms. Robinson’s publications about him.”
Judge Wedge found that Furlong’s statements “were not actuated by malice” and that his defense of ‘qualified privilege’ fully answered to Robinson’s defamation claim. According to Canadian law, defamatory statements made in the course of responding to an attack are privileged, if they are not motivated by malice.
Judge Wedge sums up her 97-pages decision in three points:
- “Ms. Robinson’s publications concerning Mr. Furlong cannot be fairly characterized as the reporting of other persons’ allegations against him. Rather, the publications constitute an attack by Ms. Robinson on Mr. Furlong’s character, conduct and credibility.
- Each of Mr. Furlong’s statements was bona fide and responsive to Ms. Robinson’s attack on him. His statements were, accordingly, occasions of qualified privilege.
- Mr. Furlong’s responses did not exceed the privileged occasions on which they were made, nor were they actuated by malice.”
Furlong, who maintained his innocence throughout the process, expressed his relief with the verdict:
“In my heart, from the day this nightmare started, I knew truth would prevail. Now it has,” he said in a written statement.
In a statement issued after the release of the verdict, Laura Robinson says that she is still reviewing the situation but that she is content that she stuck to her beliefs:
“What I will say is that I fought my case through trial because I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are vital to an open and democratic society.”
“That three-year battle has taken a great toll physically, emotionally and financially, but my principles still stand.”