In the days following Gerald Regan’s death, three women chose to speak to us about how they view his legacy. We have had lengthy and thoughtful discussions about our coverage of this story. There are competing factors at play: our duty to give these women a voice, our equal duty to avoid re-victimization, the desire to productively advance the conversation in the context of today's Me Too movement and the fact that Regan was both acquitted and no longer here to defend himself.
The degree to which we grappled with our coverage — about this story and other, similar stories — tells us that more conversation about the experience of sexual assault and violence (against both men and women) requires a stronger commitment to covering the complicated narrative of this topic. And so, in 2020, we are committed to deepening our coverage, diversifying our voices and digging into this topic in a meaningful way. If you have thoughts or would like to add your perspective, please reach out.
In the meantime, here is what these women shared with us.
Three women who accused Gerald Regan of indecent assault decades ago hope that times have changed.
One, an academic now, had once imagined all of those touched inappropriately or assaulted, walking together holding a sign that said: “It also happened to me.”
“Now we have the ‘Me Too’ movement,” she said in an email.
“It has made a difference for some women. There have been consequences for some high-profile men. But is it any different for the young women working as waitresses or dishwashers, or babysitters or teaching assistants when a high-profile (or any man) takes advantage of them? Not so sure. Pick up any newspaper or check any newsfeed and there is evidence of a continuing rape culture. Boys and young men learn this type of toxic masculinity; they are not born this way. What are we as a society doing to raise boys and young men to respect women?”
Regan in the courts
Regan, a former Liberal premier and federal cabinet minister was acquitted in 1998 following a 10-year prosecution.
The accusations included rape, attempted rape, and forcible confinement. They dated as far back as the mid-1950s and involved girls as young as 14.
Nine other charges were tossed out before going to trial. Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service won the right to reinstate them but then decided not to proceed.
Regan died last month at 91, leaving a legacy of accomplishment and lingering allegations of abuse.
Three of his accusers spoke with The Chronicle Herald after his death.
None can be named as the ban on publishing their identities remains in place.
The woman quoted above told police in the 1990s that Regan tried to grope her in the summer of 1968 near Smiths Cove, Digby Co.
She is now an academic living outside Nova Scotia. As an educator, she questioned what we can learn from the Regan case to reduce sexual violence.
“The messages I would want to convey are: If you are receiving unwanted sexual attention, it is not your fault. Get support and wise counsel. While there are risks in bringing it to the attention of authorities, you may be able to protect yourself and others by shining a light on it.
“If you are perpetrating unwanted sexual attention, stop. Get help. If you are 40-something and your target is in his (or) her teens, you have a problem. Get help.
“If you know that someone is violating someone else, don’t be complicit. Call it out.”
The Me Too movement
All three women referenced Me Too, the movement opposed to sexual violence and harassment that snowballed after widespread sexual abuse allegations came to light against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
“Now I think if even that one thing happened, he’d be gone,” said a second woman interviewed by The Chronicle Herald.
She accused Regan of indecent assault, testifying an incident took place when they were alone in the Speaker’s office in 1978.
She was 21 at the time, had just graduated university, and was excited to find work at the provincial legislature.
“I think the fear that I felt that day is what I’ll never forget,” she recalled, alleging Regan cornered her and put his hand on her breast.
“I said, ‘I’m going to scream. I’m going to panic.’ And I said, ‘Just get away from me.’ And he backed off.”
After that, she made sure never to be alone with Regan.
And she kept quiet about it.
“The money was good and I was kind of poor,” she said. “Now I wouldn’t think twice. But then I didn’t have the nerve.”
“It shouldn’t be like that”
She has urged her own daughter, now in her 30s, not to put up with unwanted sexual advances.
“It shouldn’t be like that,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to speak up, even if they are powerful people.”
Another of Regan’s accusers, now 67, was a reporter in her mid-20s and fresh out of journalism school when an editor sent her to cover a Council of Maritime Premiers meeting in the Annapolis Valley.
She approached Regan for an interview and he said he’d left all of his briefing notes in his hotel room.
“Oh man, I can’t believe I fell for this one. But I was young, right?”
She said Regan showed up at the room and was immediately all over her.
“He kissed me, he kind of pushed me on the bed.
“He was very heavy, very heavy. I was pretty strong and it was hard for me to wiggle out from under him. But I got away.”
The experience left her shaken. “I never went to the police about it. The police came to me years later and it was because I had told some friends.”
Regan’s death made her think of both the past and the present.
“When you look at the passage of time and the Me Too movement, you can’t help but wonder how things would have turned out today. I think it would have been different with so many women coming forward.”
Now retired, she still struggles to grasp what was going through Regan’s mind.
But she made sure never to be alone with him again.
It’s a good thing that times have changed, she said.
“In some ways, I thought he was a pretty good premier, a pretty effective politician. But this really overshadows any accomplishments. I feel sorry. I think he has a beautiful family. I feel so bad. But I think this really takes away from his legacy.”
- EDITORIAL: Gerald Regan's complicated legacy
- The complicated narrative of Gerald Regan
- Accomplishment and acquittal: parsing the legacy of Gerald Regan
- JOHN DeMONT: Family, friends, admirers say last goodbyes to Gerald Regan
- How to support a survivor: Advice from the Avalon Sexual Support Centre in Halifax