Former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant plans to fight the serious criminal charges that threaten to derail his career, proclaiming his innocence in a letter of resignation to Toronto's mayor.
Mr. Bryant stepped down Wednesday from his job as chief executive officer of Invest Toronto, the city's fledgling economic development corporation, but stressed he's innocent of the allegations of dangerous driving and criminal negligence in the death of 33-year-old cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard.
"Let me be clear: I am innocent of the very serious accusations made against me," Mr. Bryant said in the letter to Mayor David Miller.
"It would, however, be unfair to you, the board and above all to the residents of Toronto to allow this event to distract from the vital efforts of Invest Toronto."
The statement, issued by a public relations firm hired by Mr. Bryant, is the first indication the Harvard-trained lawyer intends to defend himself against charges stemming from an alleged altercation with Mr. Sheppard Monday.
Mr. Bryant, who was in the final stages of hiring a lawyer Wednesday, had restricted his earlier comments to an expression of condolence for Mr. Sheppard's family.
Meanwhile, Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney-General confirmed it has retained veteran Vancouver lawyer Richard Peck to prosecute the case against Mr. Bryant.
Mr. Peck has had several high-profile cases, including successfully defending Ajaib Singh Bagri on charges of murder in the Air India case. He has served as special prosecutor on a number of cases, including in the unresolved obstruction of justice and breach of trust case against Ontario Provincial Police Sergeant Michael Rutigliano. Mr. Peck was brought in because of the alleged involvement of a Crown prosecutor.
Mr. Peck was also recently asked to review policies and procedures relating to the City of Vancouver's handling of confidential information, after The Globe and Mail obtained a leaked document on the troubled Olympic village project. Mr. Sheppard, a father of four and aspiring comedian, died in hospital after he fell from a Saab convertible allegedly driven by Mr. Bryant, 43, on Bloor Street West in Yorkville.
Mr. Miller, in accepting Mr. Bryant's voluntary resignation, said the events were "tragic and sad on many levels.
"I want to thank Mr. Bryant for his part in getting the work of establishing Invest Toronto off the ground," Mr. Miller said in a statement. "His vision for this organization was clear and his commitment obvious."
The mayor again expressed his condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Sheppard. "My thoughts are also with Mr. Bryant and his family at this difficult time," he added.
Mr. Miller launched Invest Toronto earlier this year along with a corporation called Build Toronto to assume the functions of the Toronto Economic Development Corporation. The moves fulfilled recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel on Toronto's fiscal health.
Mr. Bryant was considered a star recruit when his appointment as CEO was announced by Mr. Miller on May 25.
A cabinet minister with a flare for publicity and fine clothes, he stepped down as MPP for the riding of St. Paul's and began work at the arm's-length agency in June. He said yesterday it was a role that he "loved" and he leaves it with considerable regret.
His resignation is a setback for Invest Toronto, which has the task of marketing the city to global investors at a time when the recession is taking a toll on local economic indicators. The city's unemployment rate stood at 11 per cent in July, with welfare rates up 16 per cent over 2008.
"It's a major loss," said Councillor Sandra Bussin, who sits on the city's economic development committee. She said Mr. Bryant was seen as a "real doer" with the creativity and drive to reach out to the international community.
"There's a setback obviously, by losing his talent, but also timing in terms of filling the position. It could take a matter of months," she said.
On the bright side, Ms. Bussin said the story is so high profile it may serve to draw interest in Invest Toronto and could potentially enlarge the pool of star candidates keen on replacing Mr. Bryant.
Stuart Green, the mayor's spokesman, said Mr. Miller has contacted board members directly to indicate that a meeting will be called shortly to discuss next steps.
Mr. Bryant is charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death. He is scheduled to make a first court appearance Oct. 19.
With a report from Karen Howlett