Back in his heyday he was known as Gabby Regan - a fast-talking politician who had honed his verbal skills as a sports promoter, radio sportscaster and labor lawyer in Nova Scotia during the late 1950s. Last week, though, it was a subdued Gerald Regan who sat with his wife of 38 years and two of their six children in a backlogged Bedford, N.S., provincial courtroom amidst the alleged drug dealers, shoplifters and other petty criminals waiting to be arraigned. But there was nothing trivial about the charges he faced: the former Liberal premier of Nova Scotia and onetime federal cabinet minister listened as a court official read out 16 sex-related offences, including rape, statutory rape and abduction, some of them dating back almost 40 years. Only when he stood outside the courtroom with his lawyer, Edward Greenspan, did a hint of the old confidence reappear. "My reaction is one of anger," Regan told reporters. "I am not guilty of these charges. I have no doubt whatsoever that I would not be facing charges under these ancient allegations if I had not been in public life."
That argument, in fact, seemed to foreshadow the defence that Greenspan, a highly respected Toronto-based lawyer, is expected to weave throughout the case. Both inside and outside the courtroom, Greenspan maintained that the Nova Scotia rcmp had gone to extreme lengths to prosecute his high-profile client simply because of who he is. Without a doubt, it was no normal police investigation. On Oct. 27, 1993, the rcmp took the unusual step of issuing a news release announcing that they had been looking into accusations of sexual assault against the ex-politician. In the end, a 20-month investigation involved 350 interviews in Canada and the United States. The alleged offences span a 22-year period - ending in 1978, the same year Regan left the premier's office - and involve 11 different women.
Regan - who was premier of Nova Scotia from 1970 to 1978 and then served in the Liberal cabinets of Pierre Trudeau from 1980 to 1984 - has been the target of similar allegations before. The 67-year-old businessman and lobbyist, who currently sits on several corporate boards, launched a libel suit against the CBC over stories carried in March, 1994, on a Halifax supper-hour television newscast and on the nationally televised current affairs program the 5th estate that dealt with the rcmp investigation and allegations against him. He is also suing Frank, the satirical biweekly magazine, for similar accusations contained in a November, 1993, story.
But last week, Greenspan, described by one local broadcaster as a "legal kick boxer," struck back with charges that the media and rcmp had joined together to build a case against his client. And he also called for an independent judicial probe into the way the police investigation was conducted (that decision, ironically, will be left to Nova Scotia Justice Minister Bill Gillis, a former minister in Regan's cabinet). "This is not a case of complainants coming forward," Greenspan told reporters. "This is a case of police going out, asking certain types of questions, ruining this man's reputation."
If last week is any indication, sparks will fly as the case proceeds. Regan's appearance was supposed to take just five minutes, but quickly degenerated into an hour of verbal sparring between Greenspan, the imported hot-shot who has successfully defended a number of high-profile Nova Scotia clients, and Susan Potts, the province's homegrown director of sexual assault prosecutions. Greenspan objected loudly to her request for a ban on publication of the names of all 11 women, arguing that at least two of them had given up that privilege when they appeared on the 5th estate, using their own names. Judge Ross Archibald agreed to a temporary ban, but Greenspan will address the issue again on May 30 when Regan returns to court to make a plea. Greenspan also ridiculed Potts's unsuccessful request to have Regan surrender his passport and supply a travel itinerary to the court, saying that his client is "too old to run, too well-known to hide." And when Green-span theatrically warned Potts that the trial will be her "nightmare," she coolly reminded him that "there is a code of conduct in this province" under which his comments would be considered "unbecoming."
Throughout most of the proceedings Regan looked composed but weary. Small wonder. As David Swick, a columnist in the Halifax Daily News, wrote: "After a supremely successful life in the public eye, the best he can hope for now is to be found not guilty, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees, and return to some semblance of a normal life."
First, though, comes the trial when his actions as long as 38 years ago will be placed under the microscope. Regan, actually, is not the first Nova Scotia premier to come under a legal cloud. His Tory successor, the avuncular John Buchanan, was the subject of a police investigation for allegedly secretly receiving money from a private trust. Although he was never charged, Buchanan's political reputation was damaged by the allegations. Now, at the very least, Regan seems certain to suffer the same fate.
Maclean's March 27, 1995