Look, it's the right result, but unless you were born yesterday, what Michael Bryant got by way of justice was not the ordinary sort, but the extra-fair sort.
Charges of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death against the former Ontario Liberal Party star in the Aug. 31 death last year of cyclist Darcy Sheppard were formally withdrawn at Old City Hall before the matter could proceed to a preliminary hearing or trial.
Mr. Sheppard suffered a fatal head injury as he was dislodged from Mr. Bryant's car, and died later in hospital. He was 33.
What unfolded in Courtroom 121 at Old City Hall in Toronto yesterday was the final carefully handled stage in a case that was exceptional from the get-go.
Curiously, the overriding concern was always that the former Ontario attorney-general would be seen to get preferential treatment because of his high profile and connections.
Thus, the system kicked in with a variety of ostensible safeguards to ensure that didn't happen.
In the result, of course, what Mr. Bryant got was preferential treatment: How ironic is that?
An outside special prosecutor, Richard Peck, was brought in from British Columbia to ensure the case was handled independently. Mr. Peck is one of the best criminal lawyers in the business; he was assisted by another top lawyer, Mark Sandler, who was Mr. Peck's man on the ground in Toronto.
Mr. Bryant's lawyer, the formidable Marie Henein, provided to Mr. Peck and Mr. Sandler disclosure of her "full file."
This is practically unheard of.
Defence lawyers who howl like dogs in mid-castration at the slightest delay in prosecutorial disclosure routinely balk at even hinting at their planned strategy, let alone who their witnesses and experts are.
This truth Ms. Henein acknowledged, saying it was unprecedented in her career. She credited it to her unwavering confidence in the strength of her case, but it could also be that this was the first time she had a client who was actually innocent.
Presumably, Ms. Henein had hired a private detective - certainly someone - to dig into the sordid background of Mr. Sheppard and pull together the various accounts of other motorists who came forward after Mr. Bryant was arrested with their own horror stories about frightening encounters with Mr. Sheppard.
Certainly, Mr. Peck said, much of the information uncovered by the continuing investigation came from the defence.
There were, incidentally, a half-dozen of those horror stories, all dating from 2009, four from August that year, and one from earlier the same night Mr. Bryant encountered Mr. Sheppard. In one instance, the motorist had called 911; in another, Mr. Sheppard's terrifying behaviour - he leapt onto the car and had one arm in the open driver's side window - was captured by cameras on a nearby building.
In any case, all of this information went, Ms. Henein said, "to the Crown with no conditions." Materials from defence expert witnesses were also handed over, and were subjected, Mr. Peck said, to "independent review" by Crown experts hired for the occasion. Mr. Sandler and one of the Toronto Police detectives had the opportunity to interview Mr. Bryant and his lawyer wife, Susan Abramovitch, who was in the car with him that night.
Mr. Peck said various forensic experts reviewed aspects of the evidence, including videotapes. Suffice to say it was a thorough review; even the "luminosity" of Mr. Bryant's headlights was noticed and analyzed.
At the end of it all, Mr. Peck said, the Crown had no reasonable chance of convicting Mr. Bryant on either charge, or any lesser one (they looked at that possibility). Mr. Bryant's defence would have been one of justification - he was confronted by an aggressive, increasingly enraged younger man, was terrified for himself and his wife, and panicked, Mr. Sheppard's tragic death the result.
Even Mr. Sheppard's adoptive father, 72-year-old Allan, reluctantly agreed outside the courtroom, that the case shouldn't have gone to trial.
You could have cut the self-satisfaction around Courtroom 121 with a chainsaw. Maybe.
Mr. Peck thanked Ms. Henein for her splendid co-operation and the "extremely able and insightful" Toronto detectives.
He went out of his way to speak kindly about the dead man, noting that he brought up Mr. Sheppard's unlucky background (aboriginal, probably undiagnosed fetal alcohol syndrome, seized by child welfare and placed with his brother David in a staggering 30 foster homes before being adopted) and highlights of his criminal record "not to demonize Mr. Sheppard or for anyone to suggest he somehow deserved his fate," but rather because in a case where self-defence was claimed, these were relevant facts.
He praised the senior Mr. Sheppard, and finished off with a quote from John Donne: "Any man's death diminishes me."
Ms. Henein, for her part, praised Mr. Peck and the exhaustive review, "months, days and hours" the prosecutors spent dissecting the evidence. She thanked the police for their "thorough and even-handed investigation."
Everyone agreed the charges were appropriate when they were laid, but that now, after all that had been learned since, withdrawing them was also the right thing.
Here's what usually happens: the Crown gets the case if not the night before at best a couple of weeks before, has a quick read, and it goes to a preliminary hearing. There, the evidence is called, although not nearly as thoroughly as it was here, and the Crown might conclude, correctly, that it's a weak case, but odds are he'd let it go to trial. At trial, the average guy probably would be acquitted.
Mr. Bryant said at a press conference later Tuesday that, "Nobody is above the law. But no one's below the law, either."
He didn't add that some folks get the old beater version, and some the Saab: T'was ever thus.
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