Sensational allegations of the abuse of native Indians made against Irish-born John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and one of Canada’s most admired figures, have created a huge media storm.
Furlong, 62, a Tipperary native and now Executive Chairman of the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team and former Canadian of the year, was accused in a Vancouver newspaper of falsifying his biography which stated he arrived into Canada in 1974.
The paper says he had actually come to Canada in 1969 as a volunteer physical education teacher in a remote Indian community in British Columbia.
Eight students of the school he taught in say that he used vicious personal and physical abuseagainst them and one woman has claimed recovered memories of child abuse.
"All throughout the Olympics, I kept hearing from former students, 'This is the guy who did this to me, and look at him, right up there,"' Chief Wilf Adam of the Babine Nation who attended the school at the time told The Canadian Press.
"He was a mean person. What I saw at Immaculata, he used to slap the students, either boy or girl, and kick them in the ass, and sometimes kick them in the front side."
A tribal official said abuse was widespread at the time. "The abuse was widespread. That was kind of the norm, I guess," said the official. "I think it was a widespread, accepted practice to abuse kids."
Furlong has strongly denied the allegations and says he is suing the newspaper.
"I categorically deny absolutely any wrongdoing and I believe that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in looking into this matter will discredit the complaint entirely because it just did not happen," he told reporters.
He said he is suing the reporter and the newspaper, the Georgia Straight.
Furlong has admitted his biography, which states he arrived in Canada in 1974 is incorrect. He says that he did spend time at two schools in a remote part of British Columbia prior to his final emigration from Ireland in 1974.
He arrived at Immaculata Catholic School in 1969. By 1974, Furlong was back in Ireland, where his book says he was recruited for a high school in Prince George, B.C.
A long time friend Bill Beatty was one of his original contacts in Canada.
"We all grew up with the strap present in the school so hitting a child, corporal punishment, it wouldn't surprise me because it was the norm at the time but allegations of personal abuse with John, frankly I would find ludicrous," said Beatty, who is now an adjunct professor at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C.
"Johnhad come straight out of Ireland and he was there because of his commitment to young people and to the Catholic Church. He knew he was coming to a First Nations community," he said. "He was there to help."
"Whether it was 1968 or 2012, abuse is abuse. And if a person was being abused, you knew it," he said.
"Frankly, for me it's just a little absurd that John, of all people, would be accused of this."
Chief Adams says an investigation must take place."An RCMP investigation must bring the truth of what happened in the past to the full light of day for all to see," Adam said. "The necessary steps must be taken, so we can put this issue to rest."
The RCMP said Thursday they are investigating all the allegations made in the matter.
On Thursday, Adam stated in an interview he was one ofFurlong's students.
"When he started off, when he came from Ireland, they put him at Immaculata school at Burns Lake, and from what I've seen, he was very mean with the kids," Adam said.
"I saw it, I saw him kicking students in the butt really hard. He did that to me at Prince George College.
"A couple of students he slapped really hard in the face and kicked them in the ass. I can't remember the name of the guy, a young kid, he kicked him in the front side, right in the crotch. He (the student) went down."
Corporal punishment for students was not outlawed in B.C. until 1973, and it was common practice at the time in many schools.