Regan Rape Trial Begins

More bungalows, auto body shops and convenience stores line the road now. But on a rainy day last week, Highway 1, between Halifax and Windsor, N.S.

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Regan Rape Trial Begins

More bungalows, auto body shops and convenience stores line the road now. But on a rainy day last week, Highway 1, between Halifax and Windsor, N.S., looked every bit as grim and inhospitable as it must have appeared 42 years ago when one of the central events in the Gerald Regan sex case allegedly happened nearby. Taking the witness stand in a Halifax courtroom, the first of his three accusers admitted that the last time she drove up and down that highway she could not find the spot she says lives vividly in her nightmares. But, the 56-year-old grandmother testified, that changes nothing about what happened one summer day in 1956 when Regan gave her a lift from Halifax back to her home in Windsor. The lawyer and sportscaster, she alleged, pulled off Highway 1 into a deserted gravel pit. Then, the strapping 28-year-old locked the car and proceeded to brutally rape her, a 14-year-old virgin. When it was over, she said, he used his handkerchief to wipe his ejaculate and her blood from her thigh. "He told me that it wouldn't always be like this," she said softly, "that some day I would enjoy it."

Striding in and out of court, Regan, the former premier of Nova Scotia and ex-federal cabinet minister, did his best to seem chipper and confident as the testimony unfolded. But every once in a while, a shell-shocked look appeared on his gaunt face. Last week was a bad one for the 70-year-old, who faces eight charges of rape, attempted rape, indecent assault and unlawful confinement over events that allegedly occurred in 1956 and 1969. During cross-examination last week, his lawyer, Edward Greenspan, argued that the charges are nothing more than lies, some of them trumped up decades ago. But for the moment at least, the ugly details of what Regan was alleged to have done seemed to overshadow questions of right and wrong. "It has to do with his private life," Crown prosecutor Adrian Reid told the jury in his opening statement. "And we will be suggesting to you that it's a very dark side of his private life."

How dark? Before the prosecution rests, it will call a childhood friend of the first complainant who will testify that, when she too was 14 in 1956, Regan unsuccessfully tried to rape her after giving her a lift from a skating rink in Windsor. The third accuser, a former Nova Scotia Liberal party employee, alleges that Regan attacked her in party headquarters in Halifax in 1969. The woman - who was 18 at the time - will testify that when Nova Scotia's then-official opposition leader failed to achieve penetration, he ejaculated onto the rug in his office.

Reid and co-prosecutor Denise Smith have scheduled three dozen witnesses to bolster their case throughout the trial, which is slated to run until Dec. 15. But the key for the Crown may well be the well-groomed, white-haired woman in the witness box last week. Observers familiar with the case say the woman, whose name cannot be published by court order, is the most credible of the three complainants. Primly dressed and unsmiling, she wept quietly while telling the silent courtroom how Regan shoved his tongue down her throat so far that she felt she was suffocating, then pinned her against the passenger door and raped her. "I felt this terrible pain," she recalled, one hand partially covering her face as she described an attack "that seemed to last forever."

But Greenspan said it was all in the imagination of a woman whose family has been obsessed with Regan for decades. According to the defence lawyer, after Regan became premier of Nova Scotia in 1970, the complainant's mother began telling friends that her daughter's out-of-wedlock child, born in 1960 when she was 18, was Regan's. (A local hockey player was the actual father.) And the complainant's younger sister told people that she, too, was the child of the premier. That is why, Greenspan said, she told the false story of the rape when police contacted her after they began investigating allegations against Regan. "That is totally absurd," she replied defiantly.

Greenspan plunged on, using preliminary inquiry transcripts, police notes and her earlier statements, to hammer away at her testimony. He said there was a simple reason for the similarities in the assault stories she and an old friend, who later became a co-complainant, had given police: the two women got together and cooked up the details. When he asked the witness why so many aspects of her story had changed since the investigation started, she said it took time for her to "unbury" those painful memories from her subconscious.

Repeatedly, Greenspan returned to her inability to find the gravel pit where the assault allegedly occurred when she and an RCMP investigator returned to the highway in March, 1994. "You can drive up Highway 1 until the cows come home, lady, and you will never be able to point to a pit because there was no pit and there was no rape," Greenspan thundered during cross-examination. It was a theatrical moment. But it may take a lot more than that to convince the jury that Regan is the real victim.

Maclean's November 23, 1998