An order imposed by the Federal Court has delayed a long-awaited Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) hearing into whether Prince George RCMP discriminated against a group of First Nations day school survivors who levelled complaints against John Furlong, APTN News has learned.
The Feb. 18 order seals a motion brought by Furlong on Feb. 8. It also seals material filed before Federal Court.
The Tribunal hearing based on the file Woodgate et al v RCMP, launched by the survivors in 2017 and originally scheduled to begin in January 2022, has also been sealed.
“The Tribunal’s record in the Woodgate matter is currently sealed pending the outcome of several motions before the Tribunal,” confirmed an emailed response from the Tribunal’s registry office to APTN. “The motions themselves are also sealed.”
The lawyer for the survivors, Karen Bellehumeur of London, Ont., also said the Tribunal hearing has been delayed.
A spokesperson for the RCMP referred APTN’s questions to the Tribunal, while a spokesperson for the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) referred questions to the survivors’ lawyer.
“Unfortunately, the Commission will not be able to comment at this time,” added communications manager Véronique Robitaille in an email.
No new date for the anticipated 10-week Tribunal hearing has been set.
In their complaint to the CHRC, the survivors accused the RCMP of conducting a shoddy investigation in 2012 into their allegations of historical physical abuse against Furlong, a B.C.-based public speaker and former CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Furlong was a young Catholic missionary from Ireland in the late 1960s who worked as a gym teacher and student hostel supervisor at some day schools in northern B.C.
The survivors allege their accusations weren’t taken seriously by the RCMP because they are Indigenous. They further allege the RCMP were biased in favour of Furlong after the federal policing agency worked closely with him during the Winter Games.
No criminal charges resulted from the RCMP investigation and Furlong has maintained his innocence. None of the allegations have been proven.
In 2020, the CHRC agreed to refer the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
“This complaint involves serious allegations of failure to investigate historical sexual abuse, racism, and conflict of interests,” the CHRC said in its decision at the time.
In its defence, the CHRC said the RCMP claimed the survivors’ complaints would be “prejudiced” by the passage of time because “memories have faded and notes taken at the time do not necessarily still exist”, but the CHRC rejected that explanation as “misleading and speculative.”
Under the sealing order granted in Federal Court, the contents of the motion Furlong filed has been classified as confidential.
APTN is questioning the Federal Court order because Furlong is not a party to the Tribunal hearing, it denies public access to open court, and media outlets were not notified and given the opportunity to oppose it.
APTN is also questioning the Tribunal’s sealing order.
“As you are aware, both newsgathering and the ‘open court principle’ are protected under the law of Canada, including section 2(b) of the Charter,” wrote media lawyers in emails to Federal Court and the Tribunal on APTN’s behalf.
“Unless you can provide me with copies of all documents in this file,” the lawyers added, “please…provide as much information as possible as to how it was that an order sealing the file was obtained, including as much as you are able to tell me about notice to the media of an intended application or sealing order as is usually required.”
Lawyers for Furlong did not respond when APTN reached out for comment.
Neither the Federal Court nor the Tribunal have yet to respond to lawyers for APTN.
APTN, which has applied to record and broadcast the Tribunal hearing, has been reporting on the survivors’ allegations and Furlong’s denials of historical physical abuse since 2017.
Two of the original six survivors, including representative plaintiff Kathy Woodgate of Burns Lake First Nation, have died since the CHRC accepted the case in 2017. Emma Williams passed away in December, 2021.
A witness to some of the allegations, day school survivor Roddy Joseph of Hagwilget First Nation, died of a heart attack in March 2021. His older brother Mike Joseph says Roddy desperately wanted to share his story with the Tribunal.
“He made a statement and signed it,” Mike said in a telephone interview from B.C. “He wanted it (the hearing) to go ahead right away.”
A third original survivor, Ann Tom, is reportedly very ill.