The double tragedy of Darcy Allan Sheppard .. and Michael Bryant, LLB

May 25th, 2010 | By Randall White | Category: In Brief
Darcy Allan Sheppard in a Facebook picture — an Alberta Metis who moved to Toronto, and a “would-be stand-up comedian and a popular bicycle courier who fathered four children ... also an alcoholic who had struggled with substance abuse and other issues since his troubled youth.”

Darcy Allan Sheppard.

Late last summer former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant was driving home in his open convertible, on Bloor Street in Toronto, after celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife.

All of a sudden he found himself in a tragic encounter with Darcy Allan Sheppard, a bicycle rider whose “blood alcohol level was … more than twice the legal limit for driving.” The encounter lasted less than 30 seconds, ending when Mr. Sheppard struck his “head either on the curb or a raised portion of the roadway,” and died.

Michael Bryant, wife Susan Abramovitch (l), and lawyer Marie Henin arrive at court on Tuesday, May 25. Colin McConnell/Toronto Star.

Michael Bryant, wife Susan Abramovitch (l), and lawyer Marie Henin arrive at court on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. Colin McConnell/Toronto Star.

Mr. Bryant was quickly charged by Toronto police with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. Richard Peck, a Vancouver lawyer, was brought in to prosecute the case, to avoid any appearance of local partiality. On May 25, 2010 Mr. Peck told a Toronto judge that, in a decision which was “mine and mine alone,” the charges against Michael Bryant have now been dropped.

In Mr. Peck’s words: “There is no reasonable prospect of conviction in relation to either charge before the court … The evidence establishes that Mr. Sheppard was the aggressor in the altercation with Mr. Bryant … He was agitated and angry,” and acted “without any provocation from Mr. Bryant or his wife. The defence position that Mr. Bryant was deeply frightened and panicked is supported by the available evidence, including Mr. Sheppard’s history of aggressiveness towards motorists and others.”

According to press reports, this is Darcy Sheppard confronting a driver in Toronto in an August 2009 photograph, released to the public on May 25, 2010.

According to press reports, this is Darcy Sheppard confronting a driver in Toronto in an August 2009 photograph, released to the public on May 25, 2010.

Mr. Sheppard had at least six clashes with other motorists prior to and on the afternoon of August 31, 2009 (the day the incident took place), before his encounter with Mr. Bryant. As Mr. Peck told the court: “These altercations involved Sheppard aggressively confronting drivers and often involved threats or violence … ” (To underline this point: “Several photos were shown in court … of Darcy Allan Sheppard bothering other motorists.”) Mr. Bryant did not have time to form any intention of causing Mr. Sheppard serious harm during their 28-second encounter. But Mr. Sheppard was fatally harmed nonetheless.

Judging from, eg, the more than 700 comments the CBC website report on this case had already attracted by 3:30 PM ET on the afternoon of May 25, especially many other cyclists who struggle with the automobile traffic on big city streets today are unhappy with prosecutor Richard Peck’s decision. According to Misty Bailey, “the dead cyclist’s girlfriend” (at whose apartment Mr. Sheppard had “arrived intoxicated” on “the evening of August 31, 2009 … before the encounter with Mr. Bryant”) the “message I’m getting is we deserve to die for riding a bike.”

Cyclists at a Darcy Sheppard memorial shortly after his death, Bloor Street in Toronto.

Cyclists at a Darcy Sheppard memorial shortly after his death, Bloor Street in Toronto.

It seems likely  that nothing anyone says will change the minds of people who take Ms.  Bailey’s kind of message from what has happened. And there can be no doubt that, whatever you might think about the character of Darcy Allan Sheppard before the evening of August 31, 2009, his death is a great tragedy of Toronto life in the early 21st century — and even a matter of serious public  concern.

Yet it seemed clear enough, listening to Michael Bryant’s press conference following Richard Peck’s presentation, that what has happened to Mr. Bryant is a tragedy in its own right as well. Through no fault or intention of his own, his life has been turned inside out, and will never be the same again. And, whatever you may think about the “elitist” background of the Harvard graduate and former Ontario attorney general, he does not deserve what has happened to him already, let alone some further prosecution in the courts.

Former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant outside court building in old Toronto city hall. May 25, 2010.

Michael Bryant outside court building in old Toronto city hall. May 25, 2010.

The most essential message of Mr. Peck’s decision, in my view, has been nicely summarized by Jenny F — another comment writer on the CBC website: “If you are drunk, riding a bike and decide to lean onto a car [to say nothing of aggressively confront drivers with threats or violence], you have got no one to blame but yourself” for what may finally happen to you.

It is just not reasonable to expect the average automobile driver — including former provincial or federal cabinet ministers — to be so skillful (or so cool-headed and full of professional athletic sang-froid) to avoid killing you in such an encounter, strictly by accident, driving home after celebrating a wedding anniversary downtown.

(I should perhaps add that I own and periodically ride a bicycle. But I do not own or drive a car. I am seldom brave enough, however, to ride my bicycle on the main city streets, in the midst of all the automobile traffic. My bicycle is not, in most cases, a reliable alternative to a car, as I see things at any rate, for getting around in the big city. That is what public transit is all about.)

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