By Stephen Kimber
Stoddart, 299 pages, $32.95
Reviewed by DEBORAH SEED,* Shunpiking Magazine
This review was written on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Montreal massacre of 1989.
When a new employee gets hired in an office, school, factory or store, she often finds out soon enough who are the men to avoid, especially at the parties. There exists an unspoken code in any work place, a code shared by many of the women and some of the men, that warns the new employee about the lechers and bosses who take liberties with their underlings. Translated into speech, a gesture or look means “Watch that guy!” or “Keep your distance. Dangerous when drunk or alone.”
A lot of women in Nova Scotia, however, apparently didn’t get the warning about Gerald Regan. According to Stephen Kimber, author of Not Guilty: The Trial of Gerald Regan, “Nearly three dozen women – baby-sitters, office staff, job seekers, law clients, reporters, party workers, a legislative page, even a corporate executive – had told police what seemed to be strikingly similar stories detailing how they’d allegedly been attacked by Regan over a forty-year period between the fifties and the nineties.”
Their allegations were made public only after the jury delivered its verdict in December 1998 on the three charges against Gerald Regan. What about all the other allegations, namely those made by almost forty women? They were apparently referred to during the preliminary hearing in 1996, but the judge stayed further charges. Only after the jury pronounced its verdict was the publication ban lifted.
What the jury didn’t hear about Regan and why the members of the jury were kept in the dark is the subject of Kimber’s book. It’s the reason why I read his account. That Regan was acquitted of the rape charges didn’t surprise me. After all, he had hired one of the best defence lawyers in the country, namely Eddie Greenspan, whose CBC series recreating famous legal cases I’d shown to my high school law classes; whose reputation as a thorough researcher and a nasty cross-examiner is well deserved; and whose name is associated with many famous criminal cases. Greenspan usually wins his cases. Kimber’s material on Canada’s top criminal lawyer is not only informative, it’s also persuasive. A lawyer of his stature who personally drives around the Windsor countryside to check out abandoned quarries where the alleged assaults took place is worth hiring – if you have a stack of cash.
The charges against Regan that did go to trial were based on alleged assaults that occurred years ago. Any good defence lawyer could pick holes in the victims’ memories, blacken their reputation and put them through the wringer on the stand. The charges pertained to sexual assault, after all. Such trials are the only trials where the victims get flayed in public, where their own reputations are subject to scrutiny, and where they feel they’re being assaulted yet again. Eddie Greenspan put these women through the wringer.
And these alleged rape charges took place in Nova Scotia, for heaven’s sakes, a province whose judicial system had been exposed by the 1990 Marshall Inquiry. The documentary film about the Donald Marshall Jr. case is shown in most high school law classes in the country: it’s a fine example of miscarriage of justice. Another fine example likewise comes from Nova Scotia, namely the Westray mine case. Who can forget that the mine’s officials were cleared of any charges related to the deaths of 26 miners? It makes you wonder if any high-ranking Nova Scotian, with close ties to the government or the RCMP, gets convicted of murder, let alone election irregularities, fraud, bribery, or rape.
Before Nova Scotian readers pillory me for my prejudices, I should add that I’m well aware of other famous cases that show a similar miscarriage of justice – the incompetent police investigations, for instance, that led to the wrongful conviction of Jean-Guy Morin in Ontario and David Milgaard in Saskatchewan or the Bernardo case in Ontario. How could the police search Bernardo’s house and not find the incriminating video-tapes hidden in a light fixture in the ceiling?
One interviewer of Kimber’s book has criticized the author for adding too much filler in his book on Regan, since he couldn’t, of course, interview the accused. I myself liked all the “filler” – Kimber’s account of Nova Scotia’s electoral practices makes for interesting reading. Why the dead used to vote in Nova Scotia, as well as in Quebec! The right party affiliation in Nova Scotia buys one a job – just like in Ontario these days! And in Nova Scotia, as elsewhere in the land, a reporter can lose his or her job for trying to pursue a hot story about the province’s top politician (or Conrad Black).
It’s clear from reading Not Guilty that a number of people suspected their premier was one such man whom women should avoid, given all the rumours about his behaviour towards teenagers. There was a lot of gossip in 1977 about Regan’s encounter with the legislative page Jennifer Oulton. During his period in office, many Regan handlers seemed to pop up everywhere when he was alone with a woman. Then in 1994, four women appeared on cbc’s Fifth Estate and spoke of Regan’s conduct towards them.
According to Kimber, the gossip had been going on for years. Even 6,000 of Regan’s constituents heard about it as far back as 1984, when they presumably read a pamphlet hand-delivered to their homes. In it, Mike Marshall, the writer, informed Regan’s constituents that he knew some women whom their MP – ironically, then a federal cabinet minister in charge of women’s affairs – had allegedly assaulted. Interestingly, the author told Kimber that no one had called him about the pamphlet’s claims. The claims weren’t reported in the media, nor were they investigated by the police, nor did they lead to a lawsuit. A strange reaction, indeed.
What I especially liked about Kimber’s book is the way he inserts the victims’ allegations chronologically in his account of Regan’s career and the province’s recent political history. It’s a good technique that puts the allegations into context. The effect is chilling. It makes you wonder why so many people kept the rumours about their premier quiet for so long. It makes you wonder why so many parents of young victims didn’t demand their daughters’ stories be investigated (if, indeed, they had been so informed), why Regan’s wife had so much trouble hanging on to baby-sitters, why some of his legislative cronies told him to keep his hands off their staff, why the local and national media – local reporters, CBC executives, friends of female reporters – imposed a blackout on all the stories, why the RCMP didn’t investigate any of the rumours until 1993 – indeed, why so many people did nothing. The weirdest part of all is that the RCMP finally decided to investigate Regan after they were tipped off by one Donald Ripley, a former Liberal turned Tory, who told them about a report written twelve years previously by a journalist who had given up hawking the story.
Kimber may be the director of King’s College School of Journalism and a good investigative reporter. Nova Scotia may be a beautiful place to visit (in the summer), and the people among the friendliest once can meet. But I’d think twice about recommending to a recent female graduate that it’s a safe place to work. The women ain’t in the loop.
In the light of the recent conviction of Reform MP Jack Ramsey of attempted rape – the Ramsey who was the staunch defender of “family values” – one immediately wonders the following: Didn’t any Reform MPs tell the former RCMP-officer-turned-MP about Greenspan? Instead, Ramsey blabbed all the details about his encounter years ago with a young Native girl, thereby convincing the jury that he was guilty beyond a doubt of at least attempted rape. Ramsey, by the way, still holds his seat in Parliament despite his criminal record, while Regan draws a lucrative pension.
*Debby Seed is an Ontario teacher and author of the award-winning The Amazing Water Book (KidsCan Press).
Shunpiking Magazine, December-January, 2000, No. 31