Everyone deserves justice, even a former Ontario attorney-general driving an expensive car who finds himself in an altercation with a cyclist in which the cyclist is killed. Irrespective of whatever wealth, power or connections Michael Bryant may have, he was an Everyman. Anyone might find himself in his place one day, reacting in fear and panic to a wild, unexpected aggressor, and subject afterward to police charges and condemnation by the community. When criminal charges were dropped against him yesterday, it was a good day for justice.
Much of what was publicly believed about Michael Bryant's fatal encounter on Aug. 31, 2009, with Darcy Sheppard turns out to have been false. He did not swerve across a street and ram Mr. Sheppard into a light post or tree or mailbox. He was not speeding along at 60 to 100 kilometres an hour.
Nor were any of the terrible events that night emblematic of the problems that car drivers and cyclists have sharing the road. Mr. Sheppard was simply a man out of control. Given that he paid for his actions with his life, it may seem an unnecessary further blow that he now be publicly judged. But it is necessary, because another man, Michael Bryant, was facing up to life in prison if convicted of criminal negligence causing death. He, not Mr. Sheppard, had the power of the state lined up against him. And everything that happened proceeded inexorably as a result of Mr. Sheppard's own actions.
The very act of jumping on to a car in anger suggests a danger of unpredictable extent. Mr. Bryant was driving a convertible. The windows and top were down, and his wife was in the passenger seat. When he says he reacted in fear and panic, he's entitled to the benefit of the doubt. A prudent driver, some might argue, would have stopped or phoned 911. But how many human beings would have been so prudent when faced with Mr. Sheppard, drunk and clinging to the inside of their open car? Even in his panic, Mr. Bryant did not veer on to the curb. Mr. Sheppard struck a fire hydrant one foot inside the curb, fell off and struck his head. There was no criminal negligence here.
Mr. Sheppard's personal history of violence (for which he had a criminal record), psychiatric disturbance and threats to kill is relevant and necessary. It suggests Mr. Bryant's statement to police that he was attacked has the ring of truth. He had also been involved in a half-dozen incidents similar to the one with Mr. Bryant. One involved a 76-year-old woman. And that very night, he had been involved in several belligerent incidents.
Mr. Bryant, though he was an Everyman, could afford top legal representation and other experts. If only every Everyman were in the same position, there would be fewer miscarriages of justice. But the important point is that the poisoned arrow of wrongful accusation no longer points at an innocent man.