a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Happy ending for Bryant leaves questions for the rest of us

A few months ago this blog dealt with how Michael Bryant was able to clear his reputation in the court of public opinion. Now that the former Ontario attorney general has been cleared in the court that counts most, let's have another look at this bizarre case because there are still questions that should be answered.

Prosecutor Richard Peck withdrew all charges against Bryant in connection with the death of a Toronto bike courier, Darcy Allan Sheppard, in a curbside altercation, saying there was no chance of conviction. Then he cited a litany of incidents involving the cyclist and other motorists, including an elderly woman.

Peck, a Vancouver lawyer brought in to avoid any appearances of special treatment, concluded by saying Bryant should never have been charged.

The prosecutor was very thorough in explaining why the charges -- criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death -- were being dropped - so much so that most people were satisfied justice has been served.

The defence made the unusual move of turning over its evidence to the Crown in advance of a preliminary hearing in the hopes the prosecution would see the folly in pursuing a guilty verdict and drop the whole thing. It worked.

As a result, the official victim has been cast in the public mind as the actual villain and the original villain has become the victim.

Case officially closed. However, a few questions come to mind.

Considering another recent high-profile court case, why couldn't the prosecution have been as forthcoming as Peck when most of the charges against former Tory MP Rahim Jaffer were dropped in an Orangeville court in March?

In that case, the Crown simply said there was little chance of conviction with charges of cocaine possession and impaired driving. As a result, Jaffer was able to plead guilty to careless driving and got off with a slap on the wrist. No other explanation was given and the prosecution left politicians in Ontario and Ottawa to deal with a hostile public.

Perhaps it was because Peck, a defence lawyer, didn't have the secretive mindset that most Crown Attorneys seem to have in Ontario. Clearly, the Ontario legal system could learn something about public accountability from the visiting counsel from B.C.

Back to Bryant: If the prosecution says he should never have been charged, then why did the police charge him so quickly within hours of the incident?

Sure there were witness statements the night of the incident that would seem to indicate Bryant was trying to flee the scene of the accident. But how reliable would any witness statement be of an incident that lasted 28 seconds?It was determined that Sheppard had a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit. He also had been in a police cruiser earlier that same evening after an alleged domestic dispute.

Did police canvass the area to determine if Sheppard had been involved in other altercations with motorists? Remember, most of the evidence Peck cited came from the defence's investigation.

The police certainly had an obligation to show that a former politician was not getting any special treatment But how thorough was the investigation?

Finally, the most disturbing question of all: What would have happened if a person of ordinary means without the sophistication of a former attorney general had been caught up in an incident like this and why was a very troubled Darcy Allan Sheppard not receiving mental health care?

There are questions we all should be thinking about.


  1. Have you seen the video of Bryant's apparent stalling of the engine, then ramming into Sheppard in first gear? (What cyclists believe was the true first aggression - Bryant's - that sent Sheppard into a rage.)

    What is most disturbing about the dropping of the charges is that there are other glaring errors in Mr. Pecks reasoning:

    1) One can clearly see in the video that Mr. Bryant's car is stopped when Mr. Sheppard pulls in front of him; Mr. Peck says Bryant had to "hit the brakes" causing the car to stall.

    2) Mr. Bryant claims to have then panicked and thrown the clutch again and shoved Sheppard some 30 feet and to the ground. Peck claims the car remained in first gear the whole time; Yet we see clearly in the video that the reverse lights come on, the car backs up with absolutely no clutch problem, Bryant attempts to flee the scene, and Mr. Sheppard grabs onto the car in an attempt to keep him at the scene (bike couriers know to try to grab the keys - Saab ignitions are between the two seats not on the steering column). Toronto Star claims - according to Bryant and his wife - at the point Mr. Sheppard said: "You're not going to get away that easy."

    3) Mr. Peck's report claims Mr. Sheppard had harassed other motorists in the weeks leading up to his murder, yet more than half of the claims think it "may have been him", and none of the claims (including a 65 year old woman) claim they felt their life was in danger.

    4) Last but certainly not least, Mr. Peck is obviously on Bryant's side in misleading the public when he reports the car traveled "at an average speed of 34 kilometres per hour". This is an odd way to say that the top speed of the car hit 68 kms/hr (as most witnesses claimed yet were dismissed).

    Judge for yourself, video: http://bit.ly/XsOwY

    If someone "mistakenly" ran you down for 30 feet, and tried to leave the scene because you "got up so quickly - and did not look hurt"? Wouldn't you try to grab the keys and have the careless driver charged?

  2. Here's what they are saying in the UK, in The Guardian:


  3. Link to the executive summary of Richard Peck's brief explaining why he dropped the charges against Byrant:


    It's laughable. He basically took Bryant at his word even though Bryant's account of the event defies logic, witness statements and videos that are posted on youtube.

    For a rational discussion of the case: