Believe it or not, it’s Ripley…
Donald Ripley didn’t have the patience for small talk. “So Phil,” he demanded almost before Philip Mathias had raised the telephone receiver to his ear, “how many calls you get?”
At the other end of the line in his Toronto newspaper office, Mathias couldn’t help but smile. He had been a reporter for far too long and, more to the point, had already lived through far too many disappointments over the last thirteen years on this particular story, to hold out much hope that a single, obliquely written column in an obscure provincial supermarket tabloid — whose chief claim to fame was that it carried the weekly TV listings, for heaven’s sake — could accomplish what he and other experienced investigative journalists for some of Canada’s most powerful elite media institutions had failed to do.
“Nobody called,” Mathias answered simply. “Nobody.”
At the other end of the telephone, there was the briefest pause as Ripley absorbed this startling piece of information. “Goddammit Phil,” he thundered, “that’s not good enough.” Then he hung up.
Though neither of them could have imagined it at the time, that brief late June 1993 telephone conversation cocked the trigger on what would become the Revenge of Donald Ripley. Two weeks later, on July 12, 1993, Ripley took what amounted to little more than a modest dog’s breakfast of facts, fiction and frustration to his local RCMP detachment in rural New Minas, Nova Scotia. Less than a month later, following up on Ripley’s vague allegations, the mounties called Mathias in Toronto to ask if he would “cooperate in an investigation.” His reluctant, almost halting agreement to tell some of what he knew launched what turned into one of the longest, most far-reaching and controversial sexual assault investigations ever in Canada.
After conducting more than three-hundred-and-fifty interviews over a period of seventeen months all over North America, the RCMP, on March 15, 1995, charged Gerald Augustine Regan with seventeen counts of rape, attempted rape, forcible confinement and indecent assault involving thirteen different women, one of whom was below the age of consent at the time of the alleged offence. The charges were shocking. Regan was a former premier of Nova Scotia and a former federal cabinet minister; he had even, ironically, served for a time as Canada’s minister responsible for the status of women. Many of the charges against him involved incidents that had allegedly occurred during Regan’s years in public office.
But, equally startling — and even more troubling to some people — was the reality that the RCMP’s investigation of Regan had begun not as the result of a complaint from any of his alleged victims but because one of Regan’s bitterest political foes, Donald Ripley, had passed on third-hand gossip to the police. The primary source for Ripley’s allegations was a report — a vague, more than decade old names-have-been-changed-to-protect-the-innocent-and-the-guilty report — prepared by a journalist named Philip Mathias. Mathias’ employers at the CBC were so unimpressed with that report they told him to abandon his investigation.
On the face of it, Philip Mathias and Donald Ripley seem unlikely knights in a holy crusade against sexual predators, even less likely comrades-in-arms.
Mathias was one of the country’s most respected investigative reporters, an experienced, multi-award-winning specialist in uncovering political, business and financial jiggery-pokery. Ripley was a grudge-nursing, disgraced former stockbroker and political bagman who had been drummed out of the stock business for leaking details of a federal MP’s blind trust to a Liberal critic.
But in the shadowy netherworld of gossip and rumor and innuendo, the fertile swamp where the most significant investigative reporting is often spawned, Mathias and Ripley made perfectly logical allies. In fact, many investigative reporters would probably identify Ripley as an often helpful, sometimes hazardous archetype of their trade — the voluble, vindictive and well-connected outsider/insider who not only knows where the bodies are buried but revels in sharing this information, especially if it is damning to those he sees as his enemies. But always, of course, on a strictly confidential basis.
Donald Ripley — a colorful, controversial, larger-than-life character in the small, everybody-knows-everybody world of Nova Scotia politics — fit his role perfectly. He was a Liberal turned Tory, an insider pushed beyond the margins by events, a man who felt betrayed by those he trusted. And, perhaps most importantly, he not only knew where all the political bodies were buried in Nova Scotia but he also loved to gossip about where to go to dig them up.
The only son of a Kentville, N.S., shoe store owner and his part-native wife, Ripley saw himself as the quintessential outsider in the close-knit, old boys’ network of Nova Scotia business and politics. He had dropped out of school at sixteen after he was kicked off his school’s hockey team for failing a history test. He spent winters playing hockey for the local Kentville Wildcats senior team — Gerald Regan was the play-by-play announcer for Kentville’s down-the-highway rivals, the Windsor Maple Leafs — and summers in the United States trying his hand at semi-pro baseball.
There, largely on a whim, he joined the U. S. Army where a recruiting officer was the first to realize his academic problems were the result of dyslexia, a learning disability. “Until then,” Ripley says, “everyone just thought that I was stupid.” During his “three years, six months, fourteen days and five hours” in the U.S. army, Ripley painfully and laboriously upgraded his education (“I had to copy out the text books in long hand so I could figure them out”), eventually earning ten university credits in police science and criminology.
But after he returned home to rural Nova Scotia with his wife and young family, Ripley couldn’t seem to find a permanent job. After being turned down for nineteen different jobs, Ripley’s father, a cautious but successful investor in the stock market, encouraged him to talk to Bill Ritchie, then the local manager at Eastern Securities. Ritchie, who later became one of Gerald Regan’s advisors and whose stockbroking firm consequently got the lion’s share of Liberal government bond business, was impressed by Ripley, a young man he would later recall as “one of those energetic, smart, provocative people who took to this business easily and quickly.”
Over the next decade, Donald Ripley made himself into a successful stockbroker largely by force of will and personality, and then used his corporate connections to open doors into the province’s political backrooms, the place where real power resides in Nova Scotia. During the 1960s, he was a fundraiser and constituency president for the Liberals. He might have happily remained a Liberal forever except for one incident just before and another immediately following the 1970 provincial election that brought Regan to power.
At the time, Ripley was the president of the King’s North Liberal constituency association. When Regan visited Kentville to speak at his association’s nomination meeting, Ripley invited Regan, his wife Carole, and their new baby, Nancy, to dinner at his house before the meeting. “It soon became crystal clear,” Ripley would recall later, that Regan wanted to prevent the front-runner for the nomination, Vic Cleyle, from winning. ‘Vic is Catholic and this is a very Protestant seat, and he’s of Lebanese ancestry, which would be a liability in Waspy King’s North,’” Ripley quotes Regan as saying. So Regan, who was a Roman Catholic himself, wanted Ripley to talk Cleyle out of seeking the nomination. Ripley, who claims he is, “at heart… a revolutionary who believes in social justice,” refused. In his book BAGMAN, Ripley claimed the incident “showed me [Regan] was a bigot and I decided I didn’t want anything more to do with the party after that.”
But after the Liberals squeaked into office in the fall of 1970 with the barest of majorities, Ripley did arrange what was supposed to be a get-acquainted meeting between the new premier and specialists from Burns Bros. and Denton, the brokerage firm where Ripley then worked. In theory, the purpose of that meeting was so the firm’s experts could “advise the new premier on financial planning for Nova Scotia.” In reality, it was an attempt to grease the wheels so Burns could land the patronage prize of the province’s bond business.
Unfortunately for Ripley — and ultimately for Regan — “after I delivered the Burns people to the spacious country residence [of Dr. Clarence Gosse, later the province’s lieutenant-governor] where Regan was relaxing, and made the introductions, [Liberal Party President] John Shaffner not too subtly instructed me as to when I should return to pick them up.” Ripley was mortified. “My associates would have no illusions about my role in the halls of power with the new government of Gerald A. Regan: I was a chauffeur.”
Despite later apologies from Regan and Shaffner — Ripley says they blamed each other for the slight — Ripley was not inclined to forgive and forget. He preferred to get even. “I became a Tory.” A passionately partisan Tory.
Ripley’s animosity to Regan solidified in late 1971 after the new Liberal government announced plans to take over the Nova Scotia Light & Power Company, the province’s largest and most profitable privately-owned utility company. Like plenty of other brokers with business and personal connections to the company’s powerful major stockholders, Ripley opposed the deal. In BAGMAN, his 1993 book about his life in the province’s political backrooms, Ripley claims an unnamed Liberal fundraiser stopped him on the street one rainy day during the takeover battle and threatened to torpedo his career if he didn’t back off. “He told me that I was on the wrong side of the power issue, that Regan was fuming, and that the managers would adjust my firm downward in the provincial bond syndicate after the takeover was complete. Further, he said, when or if my company complained, the government would tell them it was my fault. Angry beyond reason, I walked to the Halifax Club [the city’s most exclusive business club], swearing to devote my life to kicking Gerry Regan out of office.”
It took seven years and two more elections, but the Tories did finally wrest control of the government — and the patronage that went with it — from Regan’s Liberals in September 1978. As a reward for services rendered to his new party, Ripley’s then employers, McLeod Young Weir, became one of the lead managers for provincial bond issues. A year later, McLeod rewarded Ripley, its Atlantic manager, by making him a vice president and director of the firm.
During the 1980s, Donald Ripley was one of the province’s most powerful backroom politicians. His influence spread well beyond his home province: he headed up the successful 1983 “Nova Scotia for Brian Mulroney” fundraising effort that helped propel Mulroney into the federal party federal leadership and also served as a behind-the-scenes advisor to provincial Tory fundraisers in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. His political connections were good for his business career too. McLeod Young Weir was, as author Stevie Cameron delicately phrased it, “the beneficiary of significant provincial bond business in all four provinces.”
But a startling 1987 allegation that Ripley had leaked confidential information about federal Tory Public Works Minister Stewart McInnes’ blind trust marked the beginning of the end of Ripley’s personal power and influence.
On June 21, 1987, the CBC-TV National News reported that McInnes’ trust might not be blind after all. Under conflict of interest guidelines, McInnes, who had defeated Gerald Regan for the Halifax federal seat in the 1984 general election, was supposed to have placed his investments in what is known as a blind trust — an arm’s length arrangement under which a third party manages a politician’s investments independently while he or she holds office — but reporter Mike Duffy showed off documents that night, which included details about the trust that appeared to have come from McLeod Young Weir’s Halifax office. The next day, Liberal MP Sheila Copps rose in the House of Commons to ask more questions about the true nature of the blind trust administered on behalf of the minister. Copps too had confidential documents from McLeod Young Weir she said had been sent to her in a plain brown envelope.
Since McInnes’ trust was administered by a stockbroker in McLeod Young Weir’s Halifax office — the office Ripley managed — attention quickly focused on what role, if any, Ripley himself may have played in leaking them.
Although Ripley denied any involvement whatsoever, the Investment Dealers’ Association, the professional organization that regulates the activities of brokers, launched a formal investigation. On July 7, McLeod Young Weir flew six officials from its Toronto office to Halifax in a private plane to fire Ripley, change the locks on his door and post a security guard to keep him from returning to get even his personal belongings. Six months later, in January, 1988, the IDA filed six charges against Ripley, including allegations he’d given the confidential information to Copps and that he’d been involved in side deals, off-the-books financial transactions in which employees issue securities without notifying head office.
On February 5, 1990, after two years of IDA investigations and hearings, and a flurry of counter-attack lawsuits by Ripley — against the IDA for what he called its “oppressive, unfair and unwarranted investigation;” against his former employer for wrongful dismissal; and against a former colleague at McLeod Young Weir for defamation of character — the Investment Dealers’ Association found Ripley guilty of what it described as “reprehensible … deceitful … and unethical” conduct.
All of this intrigued Financial Post reporter Phil Mathias. What piqued his interest was not so much the question of whether Ripley was guilty of the charges against him — Mathias says he was never able to determine that — but whether Ripley could ever get a fair hearing from an incredibly powerful, self-regulating agency like the IDA.
Mathias spent several months poring over the sixteen volumes of transcripts of the hearings and interviewing all the various officials, experts, lawyers and participants involved in the affair. During that process, he naturally spent a good deal of time with the scandal’s central figure.
Mathias and Ripley weren’t complete strangers. Their paths had crossed briefly in 1980 when Mathias, then a producer with the CBC-TV program, the fifth estate, first began looking into allegations of sexual misconduct by Gerald Regan. Ripley was just one of many — disaffected Liberals, Tories, NDPers, journalists and others — who provided Mathias with the names and leads and gossip that eventually convinced him there could be as many as fifty or more victims of unwanted sexual advances by the former premier. But before he could complete his research, the CBC ordered him to abandon the project.
“How did I feel?” Mathias asks rhetorically. “Just imagine that you have come up with fifty allegations of sexual assaults involving the premier of a province and someone suddenly tells you to stop and forget about it. It was very upsetting.”
In 1986, for reasons unrelated to the Regan case, Mathias left the CBC to return to the Financial Post. But he continued to nurse his unhappiness at the blocked investigation and tried from time to time — though “not with any furious interest” — to get the story published. “There were a number of women who were very distraught and had trusted me with their stories,” he explains. “I felt I owed it to them.”
In 1980, during the original internal battle over whether he would be allowed to continue with his investigation, Mathias had prepared what he called “The John Doe File,” a detailed report for CBC lawyers and senior officials that outlined the allegations against Regan without identifying him or his alleged victims. Over the years, Mathias had shopped that file around to reporters and editors he knew in other media, including the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, hoping one of them might pursue the story. No one did.
Given that Ripley knew about Mathias’ original Regan investigation, it wasn’t surprising that he was curious to know what had happened to it. When Mathias came to see him again in 1990 to talk to him about the IDA, they spent some time talking about the investigation, and about Mathias’ frustrations in getting the story published or broadcast.
Mathias thought little of their discussion at the time. He was more interested in trying to understand what had happened to Ripley at the hands of the IDA and why. His June 25, 1990 story — “The Three-Year Ordeal Of Donald Ripley” — offered a sympathetic portrait of “an admired Nova Scotia financier [who] raised funds for hospitals and native groups [and] helped impoverished municipalities.” And it raised serious questions about the fairness of the process by which Ripley was convicted.
None of it directly helped Ripley’s employment situation, however. He’d been fined $115,000 by the IDA and suspended from working as a stockbroker for two years. Since he couldn’t — “nor would I if I could” — pay the fine, Ripley concluded he’d effectively been barred from practising his chosen profession, so he began casting about for a new way to make a living.
He decided to become a writer. Over the next few years, he churned out a number of books, including a self-published one, The Roos of Bay Street, which chronicled his battles with the IDA, and BAGMAN, his memoir of his days as a political fundraiser, which was eventually published by Key Porter. He also began writing a column for the Metro Weekly, an eccentric Nova Scotia supermarket tabloid that combined local TV listings with political gossip and right-wing opinion.
While casting about for ideas for his column, Ripley remembered Mathias’ John Doe file from their earlier conversations and decided in late May 1993 to give Mathias a call.
At first, Mathias says now, he was reluctant to give Ripley a copy of the file, in part because he thought Ripley was “a very impulsive sort of fellow” who was always in the middle of some controversy or other, and in part because he’d once again begun discussing with some editors at the Toronto Sun — which was owned by the same company as the Financial Post — the possibility of re-opening his Regan investigation. He decided to stall Ripley by telling him he’d think about his request and get back to him. But Ripley, who is nothing if not persistent, persisted. When Mathias hadn’t responded by June 3, 1993, Ripley faxed him: “John Doe is two weeks old today.” Finally, Mathias gave in, agreeing to send Ripley an edited version of the file. He attempted to excise those parts of the already self-censored document he thought might make it possible for outsiders to identify Regan as the politician or the CBC as the media outlet in question, and then sent it to Ripley.
On June 18, 1993, the Metro Weekly published Ripley’s “John Doe” column under the headline: “The News Business: Sexual Harassment Or Sexual Crimes.” In it, Ripley never named Regan. In fact, he claimed to have “just learned the facts” of a “shocking story [involving] multiple unwelcomed advances against women by a prominent and powerful man: ‘John Doe’ … while I was doing some research on a university project I am writing on systemic injustice.” But Ripley did identify Mathias as the journalist who had prepared the original story, describing him as “a talented, nationally known, ethical journalist,” who had uncovered this scandal years earlier but had been prevented from pursuing it by his media bosses. After outlining a number of the incidents in Mathias’ John Doe file, Ripley finished with a flourish:
“The questions are obvious,” he wrote. “Is an important person more likely to escape justice than a socially disadvantaged person? Did the police receive reports? Will modern (1993) women’s organizations ignore that behavior? Fear has many tools. Silence is the handle which fits them all. It is my guess that the RCMP will talk to Philip Mathias and he does not sound shy or afraid to me.”
Philip Mathias wasn’t shy or afraid, but he was wary when a mountie from New Minas eventually telephoned — following up on Ripley’s official complaint — to ask if he would agree to meet with two officers from the Milton, Ont., detachment to discuss the contents of his Regan file.
The call created an ethical dilemma for Mathias, a reporter who had long prided himself on his own principled and well-developed sense of journalistic right and wrong. The problem was that, in this case, Mathias couldn’t figure out in which direction his moral compass should be pointing.
What role should a journalist play in a police investigation?
If you ask that simple question to most reporters, including (most of the time) Philip Mathias, the answer will come without hesitation and almost by rote: None. The journalist’s job is to ferret out facts, figure out their significance and present them to the public. The police officer’s role is to investigate allegations of wrongdoing to determine if a criminal offence has been committed.
While the publication of a journalist’s story may trigger a police investigation, that’s only incidental as far as most investigative reporters are concerned. There’s a sound ethical — and practical — rationale for journalists to erect impenetrable walls between themselves and police officers. Reporters often have to talk in confidence to all sorts of people while developing and confirming stories. Those sources must have faith that what they say to reporters, especially on an off-the-record, or not-for-attribution, basis, won’t suddenly show up, without their permission, in a police file. If that happens, journalists, who depend on the trust of confidential sources for their livelihoods, will be less able to do their jobs.
Philip Mathias knew all that. During a nearly thirty-year career as an investigative journalist, primarily for CBC and The Financial Post, Mathias had reported on the political wheeling and dealing around Manitoba’s infamous Churchill Forest Industries project. He’d exposed frauds against governments and followed money trails that led to secret Swiss bank accounts. In all those years, he’d never once approached the police to ask them to investigate anything, nor offered them even a peek at his own files. In ordinary circumstances, he couldn’t imagine ever doing so.
But this was no ordinary circumstance. For one thing, his Regan file was thirteen years old. His story had never been broadcast or published. And it probably never would be. If he couldn’t do what a journalist is supposed to do with information — publish it — shouldn’t he at least turn it over to the police so they could investigate for themselves? The women who had talked to him back in 1980 had told him their stories because they wanted the information to come out, didn’t they? Since Mathias hadn’t been able to accomplish that while acting as a journalist, perhaps, he rationalized, he could do so now as a private citizen. On the other hand, wouldn’t giving his information to the mounties violate the faith those women had placed in him to protect their privacy? Mathias couldn’t decide. He put these dilemmas to colleagues at the Financial Post. After work, he tried them out on friends, acquaintances, anyone who would listen. He agonized. “I was like a drunk walking a straight line,” Mathias says, “staggering from side to side, trying to balance all these ethical issues.”
In the end, Mathias decided his duty as a citizen outweighed his professional interest as a journalist. He agreed to come to the Milton detachment on August 10, 1993 to talk with the officers about what he knew. But he did lay down certain conditions on his cooperation. He’d let the officers read his unedited John Doe memo and a 1980 legal opinion the CBC had prepared about his investigation, he said, but he wouldn’t provide them with the documents themselves. And, while he would discuss his investigation, he wouldn’t turn over the actual field notes he’d collected. He also promised himself he would be cautious about just how much information he volunteered.
It didn’t matter.
By sitting down with the two RCMP corporals that afternoon and tentatively laying out the expansive tablesetting of all the fact and tips and gossip and rumors he had gathered during his abortive CBC investigation thirteen years before, Philip Mathias gave the mounties all the pieces they would need to begin their investigation. Mathias had crossed the invisible line from journalist to police informant, and he’d brought with him across that divide a box full of political and legal dynamite. Before he agreed to talk to them, the mounties had nothing worth investigating. Now suddenly they had a task force’s worth of work to do.
Operation Harpy , as the investigation of Gerald Regan would soon come to be known, was about to begin.
The police investigation was only intended to answer one simple question: were there reasonable and probable grounds to believe Gerald Regan had done even one of the awful things Phil Mathias and Donald Ripley suggested he had done?
But attempting to answer that question only raised more — and more interesting questions.
Was it fair for the mounties to launch an investigation when, in fact, no victims had complained? Was the RCMP allowing itself to be inadvertently drawn into someone else’s politically motivated witch hunt? Or had the mounties themselves, for reasons of their own, singled out Gerald Regan for persecution because he had once been a prominent public figure? Or — conversely — were the mounties finally doing the investigation other police officers should have undertaken years before but hadn’t because Regan was such a powerful public figure?
Even if that last was true, was it really fair for the police now to look into forty-year-old allegations Gerald Regan had kissed some young women who didn’t want to be kissed? Could anyone fairly judge sexual conduct from the fifties and sixties by the very different standards of the nineties?
But all of that, of course, still begged the even bigger, more puzzling question. If Gerald Regan had actually done any of the things Mathias and Ripley suggested, why?
Why would a man whose good public reputation was the underpinning of his career and his life risk everything for a fleeting sexual conquest?
Or would he really have been risking anything at all?
Was Gerald Regan such a powerful a figure in Nova Scotia politics he believed he could do whatever he pleased and get away with it? And what would that say about politics in Nova Scotia? About Nova Scotia.
Or was it perhaps all more complex even than that? Was Gerald Regan’s quest for conquest — sexual, political — some kind of aphrodisiac: political passion feeding sexual desire pushing political ambition driving sexual obsession? And if that was true, where had it all come from?
Who was Gerald Regan anyway?
 In 1995, Mathias, then a Financial Post reporter, won a National Newspaper Award for being the first to reveal the details of the infamous letter Canadian investigators wrote to Swiss authorities, accusing former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of accepting secret kickbacks in the Airbus affair.
 Ripley was a key Nova Scotia source for Stevie Cameron’s 1994 bestseller, On The Take: Crime, Greed and Corruption In The Mulroney Years. Why would Ripley, a passionate Tory, provide Cameron with derogatory information about Mulroney and other Tories? Cameron herself suggests the likely if banal reason: during the summer after his 1983 federal leadership victory, Mulroney visited Halifax several times. On one occasion, he held an intimate dinner for his “closest advisors” at Halifax’s popular Henry House restaurant. “Oddly enough,” Cameron wrote, “no one thought to invite Donald Ripley … even though Ripley had been the fundraising mastermind. Ripley was a Micmac and a bit of a loudmouth and had never attended Dalhousie or joined the Masons; he was not quite one of the boys. Ripley soon lost his enthusiasm for the Mulroney campaign.”
 In the end, Cleyle withdrew his name from nomination. In the subsequent general election, Regan’s chosen candidate in the riding, a local farmer named Glen Ells, lost by 242 votes.
 As if to underline the connection between Ripley’s work for the Tory party and the bond business, the province pointedly dropped McLeod Young Weir as a manager shortly after Ripley was fired.
 Why would Ripley be involved in a plot to expose a supposed Tory ally? Once again, the answer may have more to do with personality than politics. In her book, Stevie Cameron noted that Ripley was also conspicuously not invited to a lavish barbecue for key Nova Scotia Mulroney advisors to celebrate their candidate’s 1983 leadership victory. The event was held at Stewart McInnes’ home.
l Copps testified during the IDA hearing that she didn’t believe Ripley was her source.
 Full disclosure: I was one of those Mathias spoke to at the time.
 Mathias says he gave the complainants as well as Regan different identities in his report because he was afraid someone in the CBC hierarchy might “slip a copy” to Regan who could then use it to “intimidate or bribe” the women who’d confided in him.
 The publication’s editor, Jeremy Akerman, is another of those colorful, larger-than-life political chameleons Nova Scotia politics is famous for. A fire-and-brimstone speaker, Akerman was the popular young leader of the NDP during the Regan era, but then quit the party in a huff over what he perceived as interference by its Halifax establishment. He resurfaced as a Tory, then became a Liberal, and finally ended up editing the Weekly, which he turned into an aggressive but entertaining soapbox for his own increasingly right wing political views. Ripley fit in well.
 Mathias’s editing decisions were sometimes hard to fathom, even for Mathias. As he admitted in his later court testimony, some of his cuts, in retrospect, seemed “ridiculous,” even to him. While he removed references to “film,” “filming” and “filmed,” for example, he left in a reference to “documentary.” Why, asked Regan lawyer Eddie Greenspan? “I can’t reconstruct my thought process,” he said.
 In classical mythology, a harpy is “a rapacious, filthy-winged monster … a plunderer, an extortioner.” RCMP officials would later insist that they chose the name for the Regan task force randomly and that the choice of name was insignificant.