The decision to drop charges against former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant drew praise from the legal community Tuesday, but cyclists expressed an entirely contrary reaction - outrage, disappointment and frustration.
"It doesn't appear that justice has been served in this case," said Yvonne Bambrick, executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, adding that it could easily cause people to lose faith in the justice system.
She noted that many cyclists have already lost hope that they will be treated fairly, as a result of other cases where people who caused a cyclists' injury or death got off with minor penalties. She cited the situation in 2008 where a woman received a $110 ticket for carelessly opening a car door, causing a cyclist to fall into traffic where he was killed.
"Cyclists rarely feel as though justice is served when [they are]interacting with automobiles and there is a collision," she said. "I think [the Bryant]case might further exacerbate that feeling." A full court hearing - rather than having the charges against Mr. Bryant dropped before one even started - might have helped, she said.
Ms. Bambrick's views were mild compared to some posted on bicycling blogs Tuesday, where comments ranged from: "It's official - we are roadkill" to "Somehow I am not surprised. No one that well connected will ever face justice."
People inside the justice system said it was completely reasonable for prosecutor Richard Peck to withdraw the charges against Mr. Bryant because the circumstances suggested there was no chance of conviction. There is nothing to be gained by taking the case to a preliminary hearing, or a trial, if the evidence to convict him is not there, they said.
"It would be profoundly unfair to Michael Bryant to make him stand a trial so that cyclists could feel better about the system," said Scott Hutchison, a Toronto defence lawyer who is a former prosecutor. "It's not the prosecutor's job to make a decision that makes the most people happy… it's to look at the evidence and decide whether there is a reasonable prospect for conviction."
It was crucial that Mr. Peck gave detailed reasons in court for dropping the charges, said Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor. The public's confidence in the powers given to prosecutors rises sharply when they explain their decisions in a transparent way, he said.
The decision can still be criticized, Mr. Roach said, but "I would hope that people would not react to it in a cynical, immediate, five-second sort of way, but actually consider the reasons."
Toronto defence lawyer Steven Skurka said it was clear that Mr. Bryant was treated differently than he would have been, had he not been well known. For instance, Mr. Peck - a high profile prosecutor from British Columbia who has handled a number of politically sensitive cases in that province - was brought in to ensure there was no influence from Mr. Bryant's colleagues in Ontario.
However, Mr. Skurka said, the outcome would have been the same had the case involved an unknown accused and a local prosecutor. "It would have reached it from a different path, but it would have been an identical result."
Mr. Hutchison said he, too, saw no evidence of special advantages given to Mr. Bryant. "If the thumb was on the scale anywhere, it was to make sure that the system was as rigorous as possible with him, not in the other direction."
For example, Mr. Hutchison said, it is unusual for the police to charge someone on the night of a vehicular homicide. Usually that doesn't happen until at least the next day. "People were being very careful not to show any special treatment."
He also discounted any role that Navigator, the public relations firm hired by Mr. Bryant, might have played in having the charges dropped. "I can guarantee that Richard Peck didn't care about [Navigator]and it had no impact whatsoever on the outcome."
If there is a lesson in all of this, Mr. Hutchison said, it is that "it is possible to have a tragedy without a villain."Report Typo/Error
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