UBC axes Furlong speech to sidestep controversy

VANCOUVER — The University of B.C. has cancelled John Furlong as keynote guest speaker at a coming fundraising event, apparently to avoid controversy.

Furlong had been scheduled to speak at the ZLC Millennium Scholarship Breakfast on Feb. 28 at the Vancouver Convention Centre, an event to raise money for annual and endowed scholarships for UBC’s varsity athletes.

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But UBC contacted Furlong’s office on Dec. 22, saying “there was some controversy and they’d chosen to cancel,” said Furlong spokesperson Renee Smith-Valade.

She said that Furlong is disappointed and had agreed to donate his speaking fees — “well into the five figures” — to the athletes.

“He has a long history with the university and is obviously a strong supporter of their sports program,” she said. “Obviously, he respects the decision, but he was very much looking forward to it.”

UBC confirmed in a statement that university president Santa Ono will now be the guest speaker instead of Furlong.

UBC presented Furlong with an honorary law degree in 2010 for his work as president and CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Smith-Valade served as vice-president of communications for Vanoc.

Furlong was caught up in controversy after a 2012 Georgia Straight article by freelance writer Laura Robinson reported allegations that Furlong had abused First Nations students in northern B.C. decades earlier.

Furlong omitted his time as a teacher in Burns Lake from his biographical 2011 book, Patriot Hearts.

Furlong’s lawyer, Claire Hunter, said in a statement that her client “has consistently stated that he is innocent of the alleged abuse, and each allegation that has been subject to investigation by the RCMP or finding of the courts has been found to be unsubstantiated.”

The B.C. Supreme Court in 2015 also ruled that Furlong did not defame Robinson.

Glynnis Kirchmeier, a former UBC student who has filed a human-rights complaint against the university over its handling of sexual-assault reports, wrote to the institution to ask that Furlong not speak at the athletic fundraising event.

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