January 22, 2020

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Ex-reporter remembers youth on the run

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/10/2017 (837 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In late February 1988 in a cheap rural motel in Sussex, N.B., then-23-year-old Pauline Dakin, a reporter with the Saint John Telegraph Journal newspaper, was initiated by her mother into a parallel Canadian universe — a universe of spies, Mafia hitmen, secret intelligence agencies, body doubles, assassination attempts, hidden penal communities and the omnipresent threat of violence.

Dakin is an assistant journalism professor at Halifax’s University of King’s College. She’s also a veteran Canadian journalist, having worked as a senior producer for CBC Nova Scotia and as host of CBC Radio’s Atlantic Voice program.

For five years she believed the phantasmagorical stories her mother — and her mother’s partner (and their long-time family friend and United Church minister) Stan Sears — weaved about the "Weird World" (a term coined by and routinely employed by Sears) that only a few Canadians were privy to.

According to Sears, only the appropriately named Privy Council (the constitutional name for Canada’s federal cabinet) knew all about the Weird World.

Right then and there, Dakin should have twigged to his bogus claims.

There’s no leakier ship of state than the federal cabinet and the huge bureaucracy at its beck and call. To suggest all of this was kept undercover and undisclosed for decades beggars belief.

It all sounds nuts. And it was. But Dakin believed it for the longest time because she loved and trusted her mother and Sears.

She also believed it because it finally made sense of a childhood of sudden and mysterious flights from homes in Vancouver and Winnipeg. The explanation proffered was this: the Mafia had located them and was en route to capture or kill the family.

Dakin’s Winnipeg experience was typical. She lived on Dorchester Avenue, attended Grosvenor School and later junior high at Grant Park. One day, she was abruptly and traumatically yanked out of Grade 8 without notice to friends, neighbours or even the school, to flee cross-country to Saint John, N.B. Her mother offered no explanation for their mysterious move, telling her only that all would be revealed when she was older.

The explanation given to her a decade later in that New Brunswick motel room was that they fled because organized-crime hitmen were hot on their trail.

Dakin comes off, by her own portrayal, as an incredibly naive, even gullible, daughter and young journalist, as she’s increasingly pulled into the cloak-and-dagger alternate-reality.

As events unfurl, her mother’s and Sears’ wilder and wilder tales about underworld crime, off-the-radar law-enforcement agencies, hush-hush military tribunals and witness-protection programs lend the memoir a dark Wizard of Oz-like feel. You want to scream at the then-young Dakin that she’s crazy for believing these nutbars.

Years later, the adroit reporter investigated the psychopathology of Stan Sears and, convincingly, came up with a diagnosis of the rare psychiatric illness of delusional disorder.

Douglas J. Johnston is a Winnipeg lawyer and writer.


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