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HomeMiscellanyUBC accused of violating First Nations human rights over Furlong speech

UBC accused of violating First Nations human rights over Furlong speech

Bob Mackin 

The University of British Columbia ignored the rights of First Nations when it reinstated John Furlong as guest speaker for its annual athletics department fundraiser, according to a complaint filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. 

Santa Ono (Twitter)

Furlong, the former Vancouver 2010 Olympics CEO who chairs Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps, was hired last fall for $11,000 to deliver a half-hour motivational speech at the ZLC Millennium Scholarship Breakfast at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Feb. 28. UBC President Santa Ono cancelled Furlong’s appearance on Dec. 22 after complaints from students about Furlong’s controversial past as a gym teacher at a Catholic elementary school for aboriginals in 1969 and 1970. 

A series of Freedom of Information requests by theBreaker resulted in a 916-page document dump last April that showed heavy lobbying by donors, some of whom threatened to withhold money from their alma mater. 

Myrtle Perry of Vancouver filed the complaint on Aug. 27, saying that when Ono buckled to the complaints and reinstated Furlong on Jan. 9, UBC “listened, responded, apologized only to Furlong supporters; not First Nations.”

Perry, a member of the Lake Babine First Nation, claimed to be intentionally denied a service by UBC, which, she wrote, “went to great, expensive lengths to provide it to non-indingenous people.”

Perry’s brother, hereditary chief Richard Perry, was one of eight people who provided the Georgia Straight newspaper and reporter Laura Robinson with sworn affidavits alleging abuse by Furlong at Immaculata elementary in Burns Lake. They were the foundation for a September 2012 exposé about omissions and inconsistencies in Furlong’s post-Olympics memoir, “Patriot Hearts“.

Furlong has emphatically denied allegations that he abused children and has never been criminally charged. The allegations have not been tested in court. Furlong sued for defamation in late 2012, but later withdrew the lawsuits against Robinson and the newspaper. In 2015, Robinson lost a defamation lawsuit she filed against Furlong. Furlong has not sued his accusers.

“UBC did not reach out to or listen to our people in Northern B.C.,” Perry wrote. “My brother Richard — a hereditary chief — traveled 1,000 km to UBC because we wanted to speak to decision-makers about Furlong’s abuse. Our people live a long distance from UBC and were seen as having no consequence. We are members of the Lake Babine First Nation and were not listened to, responded to or apologized to because we are First Nation.”

Furlong (UBC)

Perry said she survived abuse at Immaculata, but was no longer a student there by the time Furlong arrived in 1969 as an 18-year-old lay missionary from Ireland. “There was extreme violence and we were terrified and always on guard,” she wrote. “This experience with UBC has brought back that trauma. There is PTSD, depression and despair.”

Perry’s complaint names Ono, chair Stuart Belkin, athletic director Gilles Lepine, vice-president Philip Steenkamp, chief communications officer Richard Fisher and three others.

“We have not been notified by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal of a complaint by this individual nor have we seen the complaint so [we] aren’t able to comment on it,” UBC spokeswoman Leslie Dickson told theBreaker.

The Ubyssey reported Aug. 25 that Ono would apologize Sept. 28 for UBC’s involvement in the history of the Indian Residential School system. Next spring, UBC will open the Indian Residential Schools History and Dialogue Centre.