APTN News has learned the Federal Court imposed a sealing order on evidence in an upcoming Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hearing to protect the “dignity and reputation” of John Furlong, the CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Furlong, of Vancouver, was granted the order on Feb. 18 sealing the documents in Woodgate et al v RCMP, a case launched by a group of First Nations day school survivors from northern British Columbia in 2017.
The Federal Court was matching an earlier sealing order imposed by the Tribunal on an unknown date. A sealing order bars the public and media from accessing documents in the case.
The Tribunal was scheduled to begin hearing the case in January 2022, where it is alleged that the RCMP discriminated against survivors in investigating their accusations of historic physical abuse against Furlong, who was a Catholic missionary and gym teacher in northern B.C. in the late 1960s.
The survivors further allege the RCMP favoured Furlong in the investigation because he and senior Mounties worked closely on security issues for the Olympics.
The 2012 investigation by the B.C. RCMP in Prince George did not result in any charges against Furlong, who has repeatedly denied the untested allegations.
APTN discovered the Federal Court file was sealed on Feb. 28 and the Tribunal’s file on March 2.
“The Tribunal’s record in the Woodgate matter is currently sealed pending the outcome of several motions before the Tribunal,” said Judy Dubois, a registry officer with the Tribunal. “The motions themselves are also sealed pending the rulings of the member.”
The member is the Tribunal official presiding over the hearing.
The sealing orders have delayed the Tribunal hearing indefinitely despite the advanced age of some of the survivors. Two of them have passed away since the Canadian Human Rights Commission referred the complaint to the Tribunal in 2020.
“This complaint involves serious allegations of failure to investigate historical sexual abuse, racism, and conflict of interests,” the Commission said in its decision at the time.
The decision to grant the sealing order was made by Federal Court Prothonotary Catherine Coughlan. In the heavily redacted court document of March 21, obtained by APTN, Coughlan approved an interim order of confidentiality.
Coughlan said she was satisfied Furlong’s position was “an important public interest”, the order was “necessary to prevent this serious risk to the identified interest”, and “reasonably alternative measures will not prevent the risk.”
She also wrote: “As a matter of proportionality, the benefits of the order outweigh its negative effects. Applying the Sherman test to the evidence before the Court on this motion, I am persuaded that the confidentiality order is necessary to protect an important public interest, specifically, the Applicant’s dignity and reputation.”
APTN takes issue with the fact all documents associated with the case, including affidavits, files and evidence, are now confidential.
The broadcaster maintains that it is contrary to legal precedent in Canada to seal court or Tribunal records without giving notice to media outlets about the application to seal those records.
APTN was not notified about either application to seal court or Tribunal records despite having been in contact with the Tribunal and making an application to broadcast the hearing.
The Federal Court, the Tribunal, the Commission, the lawyer for the survivors, and a spokesperson for the RCMP refused to answer specific questions about the sealing order.
The Tribunal did confirm, however, there is no publication ban.
Coughlan noted in a non-redacted portion of her decision the sealing order is subject to Furlong making an application for an additional sealing order before a deadline she did not reveal.
For the survivors
The lawyer for the survivors, Karen Bellehumeur of London, Ont., and the legal team for the RCMP opposed the sealing order application.
“The Respondents oppose the present motion although they acknowledge that they did not oppose the interim sealing order granted by (the Tribunal),” Coughlan wrote in her decision. “Here they argue that the Tribunal and not this Court should determine the matter because the Tribunal ‘are experts in this matter’.
“They suggest that this Court ought to have the benefit of the Tribunal’s ruling before imposing a confidentiality order under Rule 151 of the Rules,” Coughlan added.
“Additionally, they argue that the requirements of Rule 151 have not been met in so far as the Applicant has not demonstrated a threat to an important public interest that would justify the exceptionality of a sealing order. The Respondents do not oppose some measure of confidentiality but support only anonymization or redaction and not full sealing.”
APTN has not yet filed its formal challenge to the sealing orders.