University of British Columbia’s Reversal on John Furlong Speech Cancellation Leaves Open Questions About Its New First Nations Center

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Complete chronological links to our series on John Furlong are at



by Irvin Muchnick


The University of British Columbia has reinstalled a speaking appearance by polarizing former Vancouver Winter Olympics chief executive John Furlong — triggering the resignation from a campus sexual abuse task force of its only aboriginal member.

The Vancouver Sun’s story on the protest by Daniel Justice, chair of First Nations and Indigenous Studies at UBC, is at But the cognitive dissonance of university president Santa Ono’s decision first to replace Furlong for the keynote address at an athletic fundraiser, and then to unreplace him, runs even deeper than the disturbing message it sends about how cavalierly this institution handles allegations of sexual abuse.

Credible accusations by natives that Furlong committed serial abuse of them, including sexual abuse, while teaching at a Burns Lake, British Columbia, Catholic missionary school in 1969-70 also go to the heart of Canada’s lurching attempts at an accounting for its blemished history of dealings with First Nations populations.

Those interested in reading the executive summary of “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future,” the final report of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, should go to The executive summary itself runs 535 pages.

One of the outputs of this report — nowhere mentioned in mainstream media accounts of the Furlong UBC controversy — is that the university is the projected home of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. See Construction of the brick-and-mortar facility is under way.

So, where’s the dialogue? Concussion Inc.’s query yesterday to center headquarters went unanswered. We will also be seeking comment from the 33 faculty and staff listed at the UBC Vancouver portal.

Meanwhile, and a thousand kilometers to the north and east, we are still trying to get on record Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city. Nenshi has been petitioned by First Nations activists about the leadership of Furlong in packaging a bid by Calgary to the International Olympic Committee for hosting a future Winter Games.


As an outside observer of this national agony, I think it’s important to return to first principles of credibility.

For me, the omission by Furlong in his autobiography, Patriot Hearts, of his Burns Lake interlude is a major clue that he is mendacious about his past. With drama and calculated sentimentality, Furlong wrote that he arrived in Canada from Ireland in 1974.

What exactly compels someone to white-out five years of his official life story? Especially when it’s an expansive narrative of superpatriotism, by a celebrated public figure marketing what soon would become a bestselling book?

This is damaging stuff, much more incriminating than the camp of Furlong defenders acknowledges. And the full truth is actually even worse.

I asked Laura Robinson, the Canadian journalist and author who wrote the 2012 Georgia Straight article exposing Furlong’s past — including his cruelty and abuse at the Immaculata School in Burns Lake — how she got started on this story. Robinson’s answer is telling:


“I received a tip in 2009 from a First Nations person that John Furlong had worked at a residential school in Northern B.C. Research turned up nothing; I wrote absolutely nothing, and covered the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

A full year later, I reviewed Patriot Hearts and learned he taught at Prince George College in 1974. Research showed he was a frontier apostle missionary. The frontier apostles had an alumni site with hundreds of yearbook pictures including Coach John A Furlong.

I asked Furlong if he had come to Canada as a Catholic missionary. He would not answer.”


In other words, Robinson was so faithful to fact-checking standards that she originally double-clutched on the Burns Lake story. What sent her back to it in earnest was Furlong’s own evasiveness.

Now, it must be added that just because Furlong chose to lie by half a decade about the year he arrived in Canada doesn’t automatically mean that the reason he lied is that he was covering up his abuse of children at the time of his now-corrected known arrival. Nor does it mean that Furlong sexually abused them, as some of those children now allege as adults. But to use a little legalese, it does mean that all these allegations are colorable.

It is astounding that the Canadian media are letting Furlong get away with his act of playing the aggrieved party. He was not blindsided by the allegations. Much closer to the exact opposite is the case: his self-generated, foundational, chronological lie increases the burden on him to come clean about them, rather than to sit back and engineer a patently injudicious court ruling, which cut off hearing the sworn testimony of his accusers.

With few exceptions, published accounts of this controversy focus on things like the unsubstantiated claim of Furlong’s lawyer that one of the accusers was not at the Immaculata School at the time. Not only unsubstantiated, but as it turns out, false — notoriously spotty records there have emerged proving that the accuser and Furlong were, indeed, at the same place at the same time.

All this is why I emphasize the following to my friends in Canada: Until courts, government bodies, the Canadian Olympic Committee, and other official institutions provide a proper forum for hearing the first-hand stories of the First Nations allegations, and disposing of them by fair and unskewed evidentiary standards, then whatever Furlong continues to hide is unspooling as more than just his personal shame. It is also an entire country’s.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick