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Reporter sues Furlong for defamation in latest legal back-and-forth

John Furlong poses in Toronto on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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John Furlong poses in Toronto on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

VANCOUVER - The freelance journalist who wrote an article containing allegations that John Furlong abused students while teaching in northern British Columbia is now suing the former Vancouver Olympic CEO for defamation.

Laura Robinson has filed a notice of claim, alleging Furlong defamed her in a series of comments to the media in the past year and a half, in which he cast himself as the target of a vindictive activist.

Furlong responded with a written statement that said he looked forward to confronting Robinson in court.

Robinson's article, which was published in the Georgia Straight newspaper in September 2012, quoted several people who claimed they were physically and verbally abused while Furlong was a teacher in northern British Columbia in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Furlong then held a news conference in Vancouver denying the allegations and accusing Robinson of waging a campaign to destroy his reputation. He has repeated similar comments in subsequent written statements and media interviews, including a week-long media blitz last October.

Robinson's notice of claim cites six instances when, she alleges, Furlong made false and defamatory comments.

They include his September 2012 news conference, when he said Robinson displayed a "shocking lack of diligence" and that the Georgia Straight didn't contact him before running the story, as well as a written statement the following week that repeated many of his criticisms of her.

The lawsuit also cites a written statement Furlong issued last October and a pair interviews the same week with Global News and Maclean's magazine, during which Furlong again repeated his complaints.

Lastly, the document points to a written statement issued by Furlong last December that accused Robinson of a "historic pattern of inaccuracy."

The lawsuit says Robinson's lawyer sent Furlong two letters last year, in November and December, demanding apologies and retractions, but received no response.

"The defamatory expression alleged in this notice of civil claim has caused, and continues to cause injury, loss and damage to the plaintiff," says the statement of claim, which was filed Monday.

"(The comments were) deliberately calculated by the defendants to expose the plaintiff to contempt, ridicule and hatred, and to cause other persons to shun or avoid the plaintiff, and to lower the plaintiff's reputation in the eyes of right-thinking members of the community, all of which has in fact occurred."

While Robinson's story did not deal with allegations of sexual abuse, three people later filed separate lawsuits alleging Furlong sexually abused them. Furlong has denied all of the allegations in those lawsuits.

Furlong has publicly accused Robinson of personally approaching the RCMP to file a complaint about those sexual abuse allegations. However, Robinson's statement says she did not approach the RCMP and she includes Furlong's assertion among her complaints.

Furlong has since produced a letter he received from the RCMP informing him that an investigation into former student Beverly Abraham's sexual abuse allegations found nothing to substantiate the woman's claims and that the investigation had ended.

Robinson claims she has suffered lost income, though the statement of claim does not provide specifics. The lawsuit asks for damages, including punitive damages.

Furlong issued a brief written statement Tuesday, again condemning Robinson and her work.

"I will continue to defend my reputation and hold Laura Robinson to account for her irresponsible reporting that has deeply hurt me and my family," the statement said.

"I welcome the opportunity to meet Laura Robinson in the courtroom to address her irresponsible reporting, which instigated this entire matter."

Furlong's publicity company, TwentyTen Group, is also named in Robinson's lawsuit. The company declined to comment on Tuesday.

A written statement from Robinson that was also released Tuesday said her lawyer has requested a trial date for March 30, 2015.

None of the allegations — either in Robinson's original article or in any of the competing lawsuits connected to Furlong — have been tested in court.

Furlong filed a libel lawsuit in November 2012 against Robinson and the Georgia Straight.

Last fall, he announced he was dropping his claim against the newspaper while promising to "escalate" his case against Robinson. No trial date has been set for that case.

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