Maclean’s, December 28, 1998.

Before there was Jian Ghomeshi, or Bill Cosby, or Donald Trump, there was Gerald Regan.

On March 15, 1995, the RCMP charged Nova Scotia’s 19th premier with what would eventually become more than 30 counts of sexual misconduct, including rape, involving nearly three dozen women over a 40-year period, dating from his days as a young lawyer in Windsor, Nova Scotia, up to his post-politics career as a lawyer and member of the board of directors of a Calgary corporation.

I was a provincial politics reporter during Regan’s years as premier (1970-78) and then covered his 1998 trial for what would become the book Not Guilty: The Trial of Gerald Regan (Stoddart, 1999).

Sitting in the courtroom during Regan’s lengthy, at-the-time-banned-from-publication preliminary inquiry, it was difficult not to be struck by the numbing similarity of the testimony of so many different women who’d accused him of varying levels of unwanted sexual attacks. Out of nowhere… grabbed me… pushed me against a wall… tongue down my throat… And when it was over, the women reported, Regan almost always acted as if nothing had happened.

Even at the time, this seemed to me — and to the few other reporters who sat through the entire preliminary inquiry — about something more than just bad behaviour. Compulsion? Obsession? Addiction? Pathology?

In August 1998, three months before he went on trial on the most serious charges — rape and attempted rapes between 1956 and 1969 — I sat down to try and make sense of all that I’d heard and read. The idea was to include the piece as a chapter in the book that would appear just before the account of the trial itself.

After Regan was found not guilty on all counts, however, the publisher at the time decided to change the title and drop most of this section, as well as another chapter. What follows is what I wrote at the time. The only changes I’ve made have been to add phrases to clarify some of the incidents or identify characters who’d appeared first in earlier sections of the book.

***

On the Journey
from ‘Dumbly Horny’ to Sexually Addicted

Did he do it? Of course he did.

By which I do not necessarily mean Gerald Regan did all of those many and various “its” with which he has been charged. Those particular its are matters for the courts, and — as I write this at the end of August 1998 — the case of Her Majesty The Queen and Gerald Augustine Regan remains trapped in that legal limbo-land between the abrupt end of the preliminary inquiry in April 1997 and the scheduled beginning of the first trial in November 1998. But trials are all about evidence and disclosure, about legal strategies and the best lawyers money can buy, about arguments and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

No matter what the outcome, you won’t learn much from the court proceedings about the broader — and more interesting — questions that flow from answering yes to the initial did-he-do-it question. That’s why I am writing this now — without knowing or being influenced by how that turns out. Because, in many ways, the did-he-do-it is the least of it.

Strangely — or not so strangely — the generic did-he-do-it question rarely surfaces in conversation with Nova Scotians of a certain age.

They know better.

Consider: On April 9, 1996, the day Gerald Regan’s preliminary hearing finally began, I was scheduled to attend a noon-hour meeting back at the university where I teach. Because the judge didn’t break for lunch until closer to 12:30 p.m., I was late for my meeting. Apologizing, I explained where I’d been.

“My wife’s sister—”

“He came on to me once on the Halifax-Dartmouth ferry—”

There were five people in the room. Three had stories to tell about personal encounters with Regan, or about how someone they knew had allegedly been accosted by the former premier.

That night, I stopped by our local pharmacy to pick up a prescription. The pharmacy assistant had seen me on TV playing the role of author-of-the-forthcoming-book in a news report about the first day of the trial. “You should talk to my friend,” she told me. “She’s from Windsor and she’s told me plenty—”

The young woman waiting in line behind me at the counter suddenly joined in the conversation, unbidden. “My mother used to work for the government,” she said, “and she told me he came on to her once—”

Everyone has a Regan story. Even my cousin David, then a Halifax teacher’s assistant. “You remember the tie?” he asked. I did. It was a navy blue one with small Nova Scotia crests on it. It had been hanging, incongruously, on the wall in a bedroom of whatever apartment or house David had lived in for as long as I could remember. Why hadn’t I ever wondered before about where it had come from or why it was hanging on his wall?

David laughed. “Maybe someone will want to test it for DNA,” he said. It was the Friday after Bill Clinton’s televised admission of his affair with a White House intern and questions of DNA evidence and semen-stained dresses were still in the air.

I’d run into David that evening at our local supermarket. We were both on the late night family grocery run. We talked about kids and parents, and what each of us had been up to over the summer. I told him about this book, and how amazed I’d been to discover just how many unlikely people I’d encountered during the course of researching it who had their own “Regan stories” to tell.

“Me too,” he said. “And I have the tie to prove it.”

Back in 1976, it seems, he’d been working all-night shifts at the local cable television station. One night, a female friend showed up at the station’s door. She was in tears and needed to talk to somebody, she said. Over the course of the next several hours, between her tears, she told him what had happened to her.

She and some friends had gone to The Jury Room, a downtown bar. At some point in the evening, Gerald Regan had shown up. Regan was a friend of her family, she told David. She knew him as Uncle Gerry. He joined them. Sort of neat, the premier of the province sitting down to chat with a bunch of young people in a bar, she thought. After a few drinks, Regan took off his Nova Scotia tie and handed it to David’s friend for safekeeping. Somehow, the conversation drifted on to something about some project Regan was involved in …

“The heavy water plant,” I interjected. It was a statement, not a question.

I suddenly realized I’d heard this same story not that long ago in the courtroom. During the pre-trial hearing on Regan’s abuse of process motion, Crown prosecutor Adrian Reid had attempted to blunt the defence argument that the police and prosecutors had failed to exercise discretion in charging Regan by outlining a whole series of alleged incidents, which authorities believed constituted criminal behaviour by Regan but for which they’d decided not to press charges. The incident David was describing now — minus the tie — was one of the ones Reid had referred to.

“Yeh, something like that,” my cousin responded quizzically. “Anyway, he invited them all back to the legislature to look at some plans. And then he came on to her right there in the legislature. She was really upset when she came to see me that night because she still thought of him as Uncle Gerry. When she left, she gave me the tie. I kept it all these years.”

***

Given all of that, even Regan’s staunchest defenders don’t try to defend him on the grounds there is nothing to any of the stories about him. One former aide-turned-newspaper-columnist, Harry Flemming, has publicly described his former boss as “dumbly horny” — and used the term in a positive way, as a defence for his actions — while another, Doug Harkness, is careful to acknowledge, “I’m not saying I’d be surprised if he was unfaithful to his wife” even as he insists he never saw Regan force himself on any woman.

Regan’s lawyer, Eddie Greenspan, doesn’t concede his client has actually done any of the things he’s accused of doing, of course, but when he talks about some of what Judge Michael MacDonald has delicately described as the “less serious charges” against Regan, Greenspan has often seemed not so much to be denying the truth of what the women say as to be minimizing it, transforming the crown’s allegation of a crime of sexual assault into an “awkward, boorish pass” or a simple “unwanted kiss.”

Trying to fit such behaviour into the context of the times in which it took place, Greenspan has even employed fifties’-style words like “masher” to describe the actions his client is accused of committing. The 1954 Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary describes a masher as “one who persistently annoys unprotected women unknown to him.” Greenspan insists that even in today’s far less forgiving social and sexual climate, most people would consider Regan’s alleged behaviour, even if true, at the very low end of the sexual harassment scale, meriting little more than an official reprimand and an admonition not to do it again; certainly not the kind of activity that would warrant the full, oppressive weight of the justice system slamming down on his client like an anvil.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s accept that. Put aside for the moment the most serious allegations against Gerry Regan, the rape and the attempted rapes. No one, including Greenspan, has ever tried to minimize those. Greenspan, on behalf of his client, simply argues they never happened. Accept that that is legitimately a matter for the courts to determine. Accept too Greenspan’s assertion that all of those “less serious” allegations Regan is facing don’t really constitute crimes. But acknowledge as well — given the reality that more than two dozen women of different ages and eras, most of whom still don’t even know each other, have come forward with strikingly similar stories of Gerald Regan’s unwanted sexual advances against them — that there must be something in at least some of what they are claiming.

Accept that, and we can finally get to the really interesting questions, the ones that naturally bubble to the surface after acknowledging, as Nova Scotians already have, that Gerald Regan really did do some form of “it.”

Those more intriguing questions include: Why? Does it matter? Was his behaviour really all that different from other men of his era? Why didn’t anyone stop him? Could anyone have stopped him? Did he appreciate the dangers to his political ambitions? His political career? His political legacy? Or was the social climate in Nova Scotia such that, at the time, there never really was any danger his behaviour would be exposed?

And, perhaps overlaying all of the other questions, there is this conundrum: is Gerald Regan a villain to be pilloried or a victim to be pitied?

Let’s re-sift some of what we now know in the context of some of those larger questions. And then circle back and deal with the critical “why” question later.

***

“I haven’t sat in on the court proceedings and I haven’t asked him to tell me anything,” Arnie Patterson begins carefully. We are sitting in a west-end Halifax Tim Horton’s sharing a coffee and talking about Gerald Regan. Patterson, a prominent Liberal supporter and the founder of CFDR Radio, has known Gerry Regan since they were teenagers together. Young Gerry would travel to Dartmouth from Windsor during the summers to visit his cousin Jack Regan, who just happened to be Arnie’s best friend. Arnie and Gerry and Jack often went to dances together, Arnie remembers, and they played and watched sporting events as a group too.

“He was fun to be around, interested in the same things as the rest of us,” Arnie says fondly. Later, when they became adults, Arnie and Gerry continued to share passions — for sports, and broadcasting and, especially, for Liberal party politics. These days, the two men — senior citizens, grandfathers — are neighbours in the exclusive Shore Drive section of Bedford outside Halifax.

Arnie and his wife know — and like — Gerry and Carole and the Regan kids. “They’re great kids,” says Arnie with almost paternal pride, “and Gerry’s a great father, a father-of-the-year kind of guy.”

Arnie doesn’t want to believe his friend could have done bad things with women. Like a lot of Regan’s friends, particularly men of a certain age, Arnie believes Regan is probably a victim of his political enemies and/or — more likely and perhaps also more importantly — our politically correct times. “I don’t know the details — and I don’t want to know the details,” Arnie tells me again, “but let’s face it. The times were different back then. Everyone did things then they wouldn’t do today. I mean I’m Gerry’s age, and I can tell you I did things then I wouldn’t do today.” He stops, freezes me with a look. “I’m sure you did too.” Point made. “So is it really fair to charge someone now for doing things that may not have been considered so bad twenty-five or thirty years ago?”

“Arnie,” I begin. I want to answer him carefully because I have heard this argument before, and have even from time to time made some variation of it myself. “When your kids were young and you hired teenaged girls to babysit them, did you ever try to kiss and grab one of them on the drive home?”

Arnie blanches. “No,” he says finally. “Is that… is that what they say?”

It is.

And that, of course, is the point at which the times-were-different-then-so-why-should-it-matter-now defence breaks down.

Still, there is no question that the sexual climate was different when Regan was growing up — and that he is, in part, a child of his sexual times. As John D’Emillio and Estelle B. Freedman put it in Intimate Matters, their history of sexuality in America: “Study after study of high school and college youth from the 1930s through the 1950s confirmed the existence of a double standard.… Boys pushed while girls set the limit. Sometimes, boys acquiesced, but in many cases the line between subtle pressure and outright aggression was crossed, as girls found themselves forced to submit to petting or intercourse.”

In How To Win and Hold A Husband, a book published when Gerald Regan was seventeen, the author advised young women: “Remember that the average man will go as far as you let him go.”

For teenagers like Regan who came of age in the years following World War II, the situation was complicated because the lines were shifting so quickly; the double standard was a moving target. Girls, wrote Ira Reiss, a U.S. sociologist who surveyed sexual attitudes among post-war adolescents, were often “half willing,” so it was sometimes hard for boys to know for certain if no really meant no.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult, based on what they read and heard, for boys not to believe some form of sexual experiences had become their right as well as a rite of passage. In 1953, Alfred Kinsey released his landmark study of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which claimed that ninety per cent of American females had participated in petting and fully half had had sex before they were married. That fit in neatly with Kinsey’s earlier findings that virtually all males had engaged in some form of petting and that almost ninety per cent of them had had premarital sex.

In 1953, the same year Kinsey published his findings on female sexuality, Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy, a glossy magazine featuring pictures of naked women, whose proudly proclaimed philosophy was to “enjoy the pleasures the female has to offer without becoming emotionally involved.”

If you were a young man in the mid-fifties and you weren’t getting your fair share of sex, you had to ask yourself why not?

***

Gerry Regan certainly wasn’t unique among young men of his time in being confused about how to act around females, or how to expect them to behave in response. During the course of researching this book, I spoke with a number of Windsor area women who remember Gerry Regan as perhaps a trifle more aggressive but not all that different from other young men of his era. “He’d do whatever you’d let him get away with,” one told me. “And you’d have to fight with him to get him to stop. But I had to fight with a lot of the boys back then. That was the way things were when I was growing up.”

What set Regan apart in many ways is that he didn’t ever grow up sexually; based on the evidence to date, he didn’t ever seem to figure out how to behave around women in a way that wasn’t sexually aggressive.

Like most of his teenaged confreres, remembers Garth Vaughn, a boyhood chum, Gerry Regan was interested in girls. They talked about the subject frequently. But those he grew up with don’t remember seeing Regan with girlfriends — or even with girls — until he was at least in his mid-twenties. They assumed he was simply more interested in sports, and focused on pursuing his larger ambitions — becoming a sportscaster and making a name for himself as a politician — than he was in having a girlfriend.

That may have been true, but it’s also true that, when he finally did begin to pursue his interest in the opposite sex in his twenties, the girls he chose were … well, girls. Most of those who’ve since come forward to accuse him of making unwanted advances were much younger than he was at the time of the incidents: babysitters in their teens, office girls and reporters in their early twenties at times when Regan was in his thirties and forties.

One advantage for a man, who may have been relatively inexperienced himself, in beginning his sexual experiences with teenagers was that it made it easier for him to feign worldliness, to retain the sense of control he seemed to crave. Regan, for example, told Mary Graham,[1] the high school girl he dated when he was a young lawyer, that she would benefit from his “experience” in matters of sex even though it was clear from other things he told her — claiming to know she was a virgin because he’d been able to enter her easily, for example — that he didn’t know nearly as much as he claimed to. Being an older, more sophisticated man also made it more plausible for Regan to try to convince naïve girls — as he did with Mary and some others — that they would eventually come to enjoy his aggressive sexual attentions.

And if they didn’t? Regan really did seem to see sex as a kind of entitlement, a male birthright not necessarily connected with love or even passion. In this, he was not without a role model. It was not only well known within the Regan family that his father, Walter Regan, had a long-time mistress but it was also believed that he had had his way with some family maids and tenants in apartment buildings he owned as well.

Though Gerry was raised in a strict Roman Catholic environment and though many of his sexual activities almost certainly violated church teachings, Regan was confident — as he explained it to Mary Graham at the time — that regular visits to the Confessional could wipe away a multitude of sins. He also seemed to have a Bill Clinton-like way of drawing lines in the sexual sand, telling several partners “we didn’t do anything wrong,” presumably because they had not completed the act of intercourse.

That’s not to suggest Regan didn’t realize there would be consequences if others found out what he’d been up to. Many of those who now claim he attacked them also remember Regan warning them not to say anything to anyone about what had occurred. And Gerry, it seemed, always kept his eye on that distant prize of his political ambition. When Mary Graham thought she might be pregnant, Gerry told her he was prepared to marry her, but she says he talked less about marriage and children and more his concern that they might have to move to Manitoba so he could start his political career in a place where people wouldn’t know what they’d done.

So why, if his ambitions were so clear and if he understood the potential consequences of getting caught, did Regan court the danger of exposure with increasing boldness as his political career evolved?

There is an argument that Gerald Regan did what he did with women simply because he knew he could get away with it. “The general argument,” says Christina Simmons, a professor of history at the University of Windsor in Ontario who teaches U. S. women’s history and the history of sexuality, “is that attitudes like Regan’s come from proprietary privileges of a patriarchal culture.”

There’s certainly plenty of evidence to support that contention. The women Regan picked on all did seem cut from the same cloth — young, vulnerable and unlikely to complain, and even less likely to be believed if they did. Again, the temper of the times in which he operated also obviously worked in Regan’s favour. The Nova Scotia legislature’s sergeant-at-arms, Harold Long, wouldn’t have been alone in suggesting, as he did in 1977 in the case of page girl Jennifer Oulton[2], that if Regan hadn’t actually raped the girl, there probably wasn’t much point in her complaining to anyone about the incident.

The term “sexual harassment” wasn’t even coined until 1976, and the legal support for the idea that women could have any recourse other than to avoid situations in which they might be harassed didn’t gain currency until much later, certainly long after Regan had left office. Many women expected — and accepted — some level of sexual harassment in the office as the price of their pay cheques.

And most men, even those who themselves treated women respectfully, didn’t see it as their role to challenge how other men dealt with women. That would have been especially true when the man being the aggressor was as powerful as the premier of the province.

Besides, many of those who worked for Regan still insist they never saw him actually do anything that, as Ian Morrison puts it, plenty of others weren’t doing as well. Morrison first got to know Regan when he was a legislative reporter at CHNS in the early seventies. During the 1974 election, Morrison travelled with Regan, doing reports on his campaign activities for a network of provincial radio stations. Later he joined the government’s information services department where his departmental “clients” included the premier’s office. “It’s safe to say he enjoyed ‘sparring’ with women if that’s the right word,” Morrison says now. “He appeared by nature to be relatively flirtatious. He’d do things that might not be socially acceptable today but were common then — he’d put his arm around someone’s shoulder, there’d be the slightly suggestive comment, the look, the touch of the hand — but again he didn’t do anything I didn’t see others do.”

Scott MacNutt, a cabinet minister in Regan’s first government, agrees. “I’ve been with Gerry on nights when we were with women who were not our wives,” he says delicately, “and we certainly did things we shouldn’t have done. But I never saw Gerry do anything aggressive with a woman. I mean he wasn’t very good at seduction; he was inept, he was sophomoric, but I never saw him be physically aggressive with anyone.”

***

“You know, in a funny sort of way, I think Gerry’s bad reputation kept people from thinking much worse things about him,” John Young suggests one day over lunch. Back in the seventies, the prominent Dartmouth lawyer who later served a term as president of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia in the mid-nineties, was part of the brain trust around the new Regan government.

Although his law firm now represents the CBC and The Globe and Mail in libel actions Regan has launched against them for stories in connection with the case, Young still likes Regan personally. And he hopes for the best for him. He too says he never saw Regan do anything untoward to a woman himself, but that it was common knowledge among Regan’s advisers that the Preem  “would hit on anything in a skirt.”

Ralph Fiske, another Liberal cabinet minister from that era, remembers that Regan preferred aisle seats on airplanes so he could admire — and maybe even accidentally brush up against — the legs and hips and bottoms of passing stewardesses.

Elizabeth Stevens, when she was a freelance journalist in Halifax in the early seventies, remembers at least one occasion when Regan tried to look up her skirt as she went up the long staircase from the premier’s office to the legislative chamber. A number of cabinet ministers whooped and hollered and encouraged Regan’s leering. It was considered harmless, boys will be boys kind of stuff. And no one thought it went much farther.

“We all thought it was like that Doug Harkness line,” Young says, “you know, that Regan couldn’t get screwed in a whore house with a pile of credit cards. Everyone knew he was, I guess the word is boorish, so when you’d hear that something had happened, you’d tend to dismiss it — ‘Oh, it’s just Gerry’ — and assume that nothing really serious had happened.” He pauses, muses. “So maybe things were going on and we didn’t pay any attention because he had this reputation that he was a relatively harmless ‘letch.’ It was always ‘just Gerry.’ I really don’t know.”

In 1977, however, the we-didn’t-know rationale ceased to be operative for those still in his inner circle. Everyone knew about the page girl.[3] And no one did anything.

Despite senior cabinet minister Peter Nicholson’s vague suggestion to NDP leader Jeremy Akerman that authorities had been called in to investigate the incident, there’s no evidence anyone ever was. Or that anyone in the Speaker’s office (which was in charge of the pages and the conduct of members) ever looked into the episode, although the allegation was common knowledge in the House. Or that anyone in the premier’s office ever saw the incident as anything more than a public relations problem to be managed and maneuvered out of the limelight. Or that the police, even after they were told why someone would want to steal an audio tape from page girl Jennifer Oulton’s apartment,[4] ever thought the matter important enough to launch a full-fledged investigation into the alleged assault.

Still, the page girl incident should have been a huge, flashing amber light to Regan himself. He had come within a lawyer’s letter of having the story spread across the front page of The Globe and Mail.

In the months after the incident, Regan had to fear that if Oulton changed her mind and decided to press charges, there was more than a possibility the story would still get out. And there was, he knew, a tape recording of an interview between the page girl and a reporter floating dangerously out there somewhere. Not to forget that other reporters, who might not previously have considered Regan’s notoriously “boorish” behaviour with women to be news, were clearly rethinking that view and were, at the least, become more attuned to suggestions of impropriety.

Regan, of course, could also not be under any illusion that exposure would be anything but a personal and political disaster for him. Sexual harassment might not yet have become a part of the public discourse but the public’s public expectation for the behaviour of its political leaders was still high. There was clearly a double standard here too, of course. While many Nova Scotians may have heard — and looked the other way at — the cocktail-party-church-supper-neighbourhood-gossip stories of Regan’s less seemly side, few would have tolerated the idea of their premier being publicly accused of such behaviour. And worse, based on what they knew and believed anyway, assuming that it was true.

Given all of that, you would logically have expected Regan — particularly if he did these things because he believed he could get away with them — to lay low for a while at least, to avoid situations that could prove embarrassing, or worse.

Any yet…  Within months of the page girl incident, Regan is alleged to have come on to yet another young job seeker in his office. Dana McDougall was an eighteen-year-old tennis player who’d approached Regan for help in finding a summer job. She later told police he attacked her in his office in what seemed very much like an eerie replay of the Jennifer Oulton incident of a few months before — except that this alleged attack occurred before rather than after what was an otherwise ordinary job interview!

Why would Regan take such an incredible, bungee-jumping-without-a-net risk for what was, at most, a quick clutch-and-grab? Regan was smart enough to understand, having almost been singed by his last indiscretion, that he might not merely be burned the next time but perhaps consumed by it. And he was, of course, a man who liked to ponder his place in Nova Scotia history, who had led reporter Doug Harkness on tours of the portraits of the premiers in the hallways of the legislature, during which he would note how many years each of his predecessors had been in office and how many years he still needed to remain in office in order to surpass them. Regan had spent a lifetime — and overcome more than a few obstacles — achieving his political ambitions. Could he be so reckless as to risk it all for so little?

In many ways, the McDougall incident — coming so soon after the page girl — has to send us spinning off in search of other explanations for Regan’s behaviour. Which brings us to a screeching halt at the doorstep of the not-nearly-as-startling-as-you-might-previously-have-imagined notion that Gerald Regan might not be able to control his behaviour — that he could actually suffer from a sexual addiction.

A what?

There’s a growing argument in mental health circles that, as the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity (NCSAC), a U.S.-based organization of therapists and researchers, puts it: “the parallels with use of alcohol or other drugs are obvious.”

Dr. Patrick Carnes, the author of Out Of The Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, first defined sexual addiction back in 1983 as “any sexually-related, compulsive behaviour which interferes with normal living and causes stress on family, loved ones and one’s work environment.”

While no reputable sex addiction professional would even attempt to diagnose someone without interviewing them directly, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who fits Carnes definition better than Gerald Regan.

The NCSAC also offers what it calls “clues” for determining whether someone is a sexual addict, including:

  • The problem behaviour is not an isolated occurrence; there is a pattern of this behaviour over a significant time span.
  • Despite a previous significant adverse consequence, the behaviour is repeated. Sexual decisions do not appear to be made on a rational basis.
  • Increasingly greater risks are taken over time.…
  • The person denies to him/herself and others that there is a problem when it is evident to others, utilizing minimization, rationalization and justification to continue to engage in their behaviours while trying to explain the problem away.

Again, you can almost mentally put a check mark beside each one of those clues.

How and why does someone become addicted to sex?

Generally, Carnes writes, “addicts do not perceive themselves as worthwhile persons. Nor do they believe other people would care for them or meet their needs if everything was known about them, including their addiction. Finally, they believe that sex is their most important need. Sex is what makes isolation bearable. Their core beliefs are the anchor points of the sexual addiction.”

What core beliefs? Carnes uses the example of Theresa, the sexually addicted woman Diane Keaton portrayed in the 1977 Hollywood movie Looking For Mr. Goodbar.  “Theresa comes from a rigid, Catholic family with proscriptive attitudes about sexuality,” Carnes writes of the movie’s central figure, who teaches deaf children by day while indulging a “secret life dominated by compulsive sex” by night. “Theresa is not alone in her family in struggling with sexual compulsion or the proscriptive rules of the family… With a dominating, alcoholic father, spontaneity and intimacy were extremely limited… Unworthiness as a person was the cornerstone of Theresa’s belief system.… She opted … for freewheeling sexuality which precluded lasting relationships.”

It’s treacherous, of course, to travel too far down the road of amateur psychologist —neither Regan nor members of his immediate family would, understandably, agree to be interviewed for this book, so there are plenty of gaps in our knowledge of Regan’s childhood — but it’s also hard not to read parallels in the tea leaves of Regan’s own family life, particularly the impact of his mother’s smothering Catholicism and his father’s compulsive philandering on Gerry’s childhood. Both apparently became even more pronounced after his sister Greta’s death, which occurred in 1942, at the critical beginning of Gerry’s adolescence.

Although Gerry’s older brother Walter, Jr.,  who left home to go to war before Greta’s death, and older sister Maureen, who was studying to be a nun when her younger sister died, apparently never showed any signs of addictive behaviour, we do know that Gerry’s younger brother, Jim, suffered from similar — though not identical — sexual compulsions, as well as from alcoholism. Addiction experts say cross-addiction is common among sufferers, and that addictive tendencies tend to manifest themselves in families.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea that sexual addiction is a real, identifiable disorder[5]. But however you categorize Regan’s behaviour, it’s still clear he was more than just “dumbly horny.”

It is also intriguing, and perhaps telling, to consider the Regan case in the context of the growing number of well-publicized cases concerning politicians who get caught in sexual misadventures. Is there also some psychic connection between the personality of the individual who aspires to high office and sexual risk taking? Or are we just more aware of those cases because the press has become obsessed with uncovering sensational stories about politicians and their sexual habits.

Certainly, the line between the reporting of what are public affairs and what should be private lives has blurred if not entirely disappeared since Regan left office. The turning point probably came late one night in 1974 — the same year Watergate drove Richard Nixon from office and Nova Scotia voters rewarded Gerald Regan with a second term — when Washington’s Park Police pulled over a speeding Lincoln driven by a drunken Rep. Wilbur Mills, the Chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. A stripper named Fanne Fox jumped out of Mills’ car and made a great leap into the nearby Tidal Basin in an effort to spare the very married Congressman embarrassment. It didn’t work. The fact that Fanne and Wilbur shared top billing on the subsequent police report made the incident news. But later — after it became clear the powerful politician and “The Argentine Firecracker,” as she billed herself on the stage down at the Silver Slipper, had had a thing going for quite some time without most reporters even being aware of it — Washington journalists began to ask themselves what else didn’t they know about the politicians they covered.

Were other politicians mucking about like Mills — and perhaps even using their public offices to indulge their private lusts? The Mills-Fox affair quickly begat the case of Rep. Wayne Hays and Elizabeth Ray, the secretary who couldn’t type but who could — and did — do other things the Congressman wanted done. This exposé was followed by a string of other, equally sordid revelations about politicians’ private behaviours in the American press.

Some Canadian journalists attempted to do similar reporting on the sexual peccadilloes of our politicians — witness the Moon and Mathias[6] investigations into Gerald Regan’s behaviour in 1977 and 1980 — but they smacked up against tougher libel laws, a more entrenched Canadian reticence to venture into political bedrooms, even when it appeared to involve abuse of power, and a still powerful old boys’ network that continued to consider such reporting beyond the pale.

In the U.S., however, the stakes kept rising. In 1987, U.S. presidential wannabe Gary Hart not only scuppered his own campaign by daring the press to catch him in an extra-marital fling but he also almost single-handedly created the “character issue” that has allowed reporters to redefine what constitutes “legitimate” news ever since.

A year before Donald Ripley — a Conservative bagman with a personal grudge against Regan — showed up at the New Minas RCMP detachment and threatened to go to the press if the mounties didn’t investigate his allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour against Gerald Regan, the Star, an American supermarket tabloid, upped the reporting ante with lurid headlines that U.S. presidential hopeful Bill Clinton had had a twelve-year affair with an Arkansas state employee and cabaret singer named Gennifer Flowers. While the mainstream media pretended to hold its collective nose at such tabloid muckraking, it quickly dove headfirst into the same dangerously shallow waters, accepting that it was now fair game to report on what were apparently consensual sexual couplings between politicians and their paramours.

***

But not all those couplings were consensual. That same year, The Washington Post —  the newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal — exhaustively documented the far more significant story of Oregon Senator Robert Packwood, who had gotten away with sexually harassing his women staffers and female lobbyists for years. A 1995 U.S. Senate Ethics Committee report, which resulted in Packwood’s tearful resignation, established that — shades of Gerald Regan — Packwood had engaged in a pattern of harassment and sexual misconduct spanning more than twenty years and involving at least eighteen different women.

The women’s stories were strikingly, spookily similar to many of the current allegations against Regan: “In 1975 in his Senate office in Washington,” the report says, for example, “Senator Packwood grabbed [a] staff assistant, pinned her against a wall or desk, held her hair with one hand, bending her head backwards, fondling her with his other hand, and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth.”

Or this incident from 1969 that took place in Packwood’s home: “Senator Packwood grabbed an employee of another Senator who was babysitting for him, rubbed her shoulders and back, and kissed her on the mouth. He also put his arm around her and touched her leg as he drove her home.”

Partly because it’s now become open season on the sexual dalliances of our politicians, we’re slowly beginning to realize there is nothing much new in any of this, and that many revered politicians from supposedly kinder, gentler historical times were also philanderers, and worse. Even Joseph Howe, Nova Scotia’s most famous political native son, is now acknowledged to have fathered many illegitimate children on his various travels through the countryside. Today, there is even a Nova Scotia provincial heritage building that earned its designation largely on the strength of the fact that one of Howe’s bastard progeny grew up there.

Does that mean politicians, who are often ego-driven risk takers gambling all on the outcome of a single vote, are more obsessed with sex and more inclined to take chances than other mortals?

***

And, as interesting as all of this may be intellectually, does any of it matter? Probably not to those women who accused Regan of assaulting them. And certainly not to the criminal justice system, which must determine his fate based on what he may have done rather than why he might have done it.

And Regan, to this point at least, has never admitted to making any improper sexual advances to anyone, let alone to having a sexual addiction. He’s been able to avoid having to confront that issue, in part, because he genuinely believes he’s the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt.

And, of course, at the very heart of it, he is.

One would be hard-pressed to characterize Donald Ripley as a public-spirited individual concerned solely about justice for women. If not for Ripley’s hatred for Regan, it’s clear the police would never have known about the collection of allegations that became the starting point for their investigation. And — because of who Regan was, and because of the Crown’s and the mounties’ own need to demonstrate that they have learned their lessons from the Marshall Inquiry’s[7] exposure of the tainted history of unequal justice in this province — the case itself has also always clearly been about more than simply whether Gerald Regan did what he is accused of doing.

This raises yet another twist on the after-the-did-he-do-it questions. If Gerald Regan had never been premier of Nova Scotia, would authorities have spent the time and the money and the energy to pursue allegations dating back thirty and forty years, many of which — at least when considered individually — constituted relatively low-end sexual assaults?

The answer is… probably not.

As tempting as it may be to take that truth and twist it into an argument that this has therefore been what Eddie Greenspan calls “an evil prosecution,” it’s worth taking a moment to flip that conclusion on its ear and ask: During the sixties, seventies and eighties, did Gerald Regan’s public profile protect him from legitimate scrutiny?

George MacDonald, Regan’s lawyer in his civil lawsuits against the CBC and The Globe and Mail, insists Regan never got a free pass from the system, but he knows better than most how tricky that argument can be to make in Nova Scotia. Sitting in his office in downtown Halifax a few weeks before the beginning of the preliminary hearing on the criminal charges, MacDonald attempts to carefully lay out for me the basics of the defence argument that Regan is the victim here. But then — as he is pointing out that there was at least one previous police investigation into questions about what happened to the missing tape of the interview between the page girl and the reporter — he trips over his own legal past.

“The fact that there was a police investigation indicates that someone did look into these allegations at the time and found there was no basis for them—” MacDonald begins. He stops, suddenly sheepish.

Back in the late 1980s, George MacDonald was chief counsel to the Marshall Inquiry. I was the editor of its final report. I knew he had played a key role in convincing the commissioners to examine the question of whether the Nova Scotia justice system favoured the powerful. And that he had been relentless in demonstrating just how true that was.  MacDonald — perhaps better than anyone else in the province — knows just how easily and often police investigations were derailed to protect the powerful. And he knew I knew he knew.

“I’m not saying that just because the police investigated,” he begins again, trying to regain the high ground, “that that is the end of the story. But …”

What will be the end of the story?

On December 18, 1998, after a six-week trial, a jury of six women and four men found Gerald Regan not guilty of the charges of rape and attempted rape. The crown eventually dropped the other charges against him.

NOT GUILTY: The missing Gerald Regan Chapters, Part 2

***

The two excised chapters from the original Regan book have been restored and are included, along with other lawyer deletions, in a new e-book edition under its original, pre-verdict title: Aphrodisiac: Sex, Politics, Power and Gerald Regan.

***

[1] All of the women who accused Regan of sexually inappropriate behaviour have been identified with pseudonyms.

[2] Before he was criminally charged, the best known and most notorious incident involving Regan took place in 1977 when he was accused of assaulting an 18-year-old page girl who came to see him in his office in the legislature.

[3] The page girl, Jennifer Oulton, was an 18-year-old woman who’d approached Regan for help in finding a job. At the end of their meeting in his private office in the legislature during a night sitting of the House, Regan attacked her. “The next thing I can recall is him driving his tongue down my throat,” she told Regan’s preliminary hearing. “The whole atmosphere had been so normal and then all of a sudden… I mean he was old enough to be my grandfather.” Word about the incident quickly spread to MLAs, reporters and legislative staff members. Journalists, including the Globe and Mail’s investigative reporter Peter Moon, investigated but the paper spiked his story after Regan’s lawyers threatened an “expensive law suit if they published anything at all.”

[4] Bette Cahill, then a radio reporter, interviewed the page girl about the incident on the understanding that, if she agreed to go public, Cahill would be allowed to broadcast the interview. Until then, the recording would remain in Oulton’s custody. Three months after the incident, Oulton’s apartment was robbed; the only thing missing was the cassette recording.

[5] The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t specifically recognize sexual addiction, although the 1994 edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes a category labelled: “Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.” One example of such a disorder is described as “distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used.” And Marty Klein, a California sex therapist and marriage counsellor, believes the addiction model is too narrow. “Many people who are labelled sexual addicts feel out of control,” he told The New Yorker, “but they confuse feeling out of control with being out of control.… It’s not a question of right and wrong. The sexual addiction model is a very limited one.” And a moralistic one, he suggests, often designed to make people feel guilty about sexual activities that may be reasonable but aren’t within social norms. Dr. Eli Coleman, the Director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School, agrees there is a “tendency to take anything that is out of the ordinary sexually and give it a heavily laden label.”

[6] Peter Moon, an investigative reporter for The Globe and Mail, and Philip Mathias, an investigative reporter with the CBC, tried and failed to get stories about the Regan case published.

[7] The late 1980s Royal Commission into the Wrongful Conviction of Donald Marshall, Jr. — a young Nova Scotia native who spent eleven years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit — had exposed Nova Scotia’s two-tiered justice system and documents how society’s powerful received different and better treatment from the justice system than the poor and racial minorities.

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. I personally know two women, a very close friend and my MOTHER, who were “approached” by him. He chased my friend around and around a desk in the office she was working at. He was 26 years older than her. I’m just one person and I know two people he was inappropriate with. Imagine if someone calculated every one of his advances over the years!

    1. I hear you Stella! For women of our generation he was notorious. Three of my friends — three! — were assaulted by him and interviewed by the RCMP in advance of his trial. He is Nova Scotia’s Bill Cosby.

  2. “Could he be so reckless as to risk it all for so little?”

    What could possibly be more important than a “GREAT” man’s vanity? Certainly not a young 18 year old girl’s self esteem and security.

    What a loathsome man.