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Business in Vancouver

Canada’s UBC reinstates controversial keynote speaker amid abuse allegations

Former Vancouver Olympics CEO had been removed because of complaints about his controversial past

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 11:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 11:31am

By Glen Korstrom

The University of British Columbia (UBC) has announced that it has reinstated controversial business leader John Furlong as the keynote speaker at the 18th annual ZLC Millennium Scholarship Breakfast on February 28.

The event is intended to raise money for annual and endowed scholarships for UBC’s varsity athletes.

The university had cancelled Furlong’s appearance because of student complaints related to unproven allegations that, between 1969 and 1972, Furlong had abused aboriginal students in the village of Burns Lake and city of Prince George while he was a teacher at schools.

Journalist Laura Robinson broke the story that contained those unproven allegations in the Georgia Straight newspaper in November 2012. Furlong sued her for defamation and then dropped that suit, saying that he just wanted to get on with his life.

Robinson sued Furlong for defamation because of remarks he made about her after her story appeared. British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Catherine Wedge then dismissed Robinson’s suit.

Anti-sexual-assault activist and Glynnis Kirchmeier, in December, was one UBC Alumnus who objected to the university’s decision to have Furlong deliver the upcoming keynote address.

Kirchmeier sent multiple tweets about the matter, including one to UBC president and chancellor Santa Ono as a way to try to get the university to reverse its decision.

On December 22, UBC contacted Furlong’s office to cancel his appearance at the breakfast.

That prompted much buzz in various media for the rest of 2016, with many people saying that because none of the allegations had been proven it would be unfair for the university to punish Furlong.

On January 3 – the first workday of 2017 – UBC released a statement from Ono saying “UBC made this decision in good faith, but without proper consideration of its potential impact on Mr. Furlong or his family. While this decision was made without my knowledge or that of the UBC Board of Governors, I deeply regret this error and have apologised to Mr. Furlong on behalf of UBC. We do so again here.”

That apology laid the groundwork for the university’s January 9 declaration that Furlong, once again, would be a keynote speaker at the February 28 breakfast.

Furlong spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade has said that Furlong would be paid a speaking fee “well into the five figures.” He plans to donate that speaking fee back to the university’s athletes.

Furlong’s alleged victims have not given up in their battle to have their allegations acknowledged.

Six Northern British Columbia First Nations members in December accused the federal government and RCMP of racial and ethnic discrimination for bungling their allegations of abuse against Furlong.

Maurice Joseph, Emma Williams, Dorothy Williams, Richard Perry, Ann Tom and Cathy Woodgate filed a complaint on December 5 with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

UBC reinstates John Furlong as keynote speaker