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HomeBusinessWhy did Morgan Freeman’s voice go, but John Furlong’s name stay on SkyTrain?

Why did Morgan Freeman’s voice go, but John Furlong’s name stay on SkyTrain?

Bob Mackin

Only a couple of days after Morgan Freeman became a guest SkyTrain announcer in late May, TransLink kiboshed the gimmick.

The Oscar winner and pitchman for global Olympic sponsor Visa was suddenly accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour in U.S. media reports. He issued a statement that apologized for making inappropriate comments, but denied assaulting women.

Meanwhile, a SkyTrain car still bears the name of a prominent British Columbian who was accused of harming aboriginal children under his care. 

Car 308 (Wikimedia Commons)

In May 2010, TransLink dedicated Mark II car 308 “In the Olympic Spirit of John Furlong.” It was the first time a SkyTrain car displayed the name of a person, after Mark I cars had been dedicated to B.C. place names. The honour was to commemorate TransLink’s contribution to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics transportation plan. 

TransLink told theBreaker that car number 308 remains in regular service and it still bears Furlong’s name. It did not explain why Furlong’s name remains, but Freeman’s voice does not. 

In September 2012, the former CEO of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics was accused of mental, physical and sexual abuse by former students from a day school in Burns Lake. Furlong had come to Canada in 1969 as a lay missionary from Ireland to be a gym teacher at Immaculata Catholic elementary — facts that readers did not find in his 2011-published, Patriot Hearts memoir.

Furlong quickly and emphatically denied the allegations that had been published in journalist Laura Robinson’s exposé in the Georgia Straight newspaper under the headline John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake. Furlong did admit at a hastily called news conference that he had lived and worked in Burns Lake, but called that time “fairly brief and fairly uneventful.” 

The RCMP did not recommend charges. None of the allegations against Furlong has been tested in court. 

Furlong filed, but later withdrew, defamation lawsuits against Robinson and the Georgia Straight. Robinson sued Furlong for defamation, but a judge ruled in September 2015 that Furlong had a right to defend his reputation against Robinson. Three civil lawsuits against him never got to trial after the plaintiffs’ lawyer resigned without explanation. 

Furlong remains executive chair of the Vancouver Whitecaps, chair of Rocky Mountaineer and Own the Podium and a director of Canadian Tire. In 2016, the Canadian Olympic Committee made him chair of a committee to help Calgary formulate a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. He has also resumed paid public speaking engagements after many cancellations in the wake of Robinson’s story. 

Patriot Hearts was translated to Chinese and published in 2017, with the blessing of the Chinese government, under the title The Sun Finally Shines. There were no corrections or additions to the Welcome to Canada, Make Us Better chapter that formed the basis of Robinson’s September 2012 story. 

During the civil trial for Robinson’s defamation lawsuit against Furlong, Furlong took the stand in his own defence. Coincidentally, it was on International Olympic Day in 2015. Under cross-examination, he admitted that he came to Edmonton with his family as a landed immigrant in 1975, not 1974, the year that is mentioned in Patriot Hearts.  

Freeman (left) and Furlong.

Cathy Woodgate, one of the former students who alleged abuse, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November 2015, asking for Trudeau to remove Furlong from chairing the federally funded Own the Podium. Trudeau did not respond. 

At its annual meeting in July 2016, the Assembly of First Nations resolved to ask the federal government for a “thorough and impartial investigation” into the complaints against Furlong. 

Last month, the Canadian Human Rights Commission decided to proceed with the January 2017 complaint by Woodgate and other members of the Lake Babine and Burns Lake First Nations against the RCMP. The complaint alleged the RCMP’s Cpl. Quinton Mackie failed to properly investigate the allegations of abuse against Furlong.

“This complaint involves serious allegations of failure to investigate historical sexual abuse, racism and conflict of interest. In all of the circumstances, the Commission is of the view that it is in the interest of justice that it should be dealt with,” said the May 16 decision, which was attached to a June 5 letter to Woodgate.  

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