Chutzpah, thy name is Michael Bryant


 Recently published in the Alberta Street News

By Allan Sheppard

Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible ‘guts,’ presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to.” In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and condemnation. In the same work, Rosten also defined the term as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.” –Wikipedia

I’d like to propose an alternative definition (or example) of chutzpah: that quality enshrined in a man (former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant) who, having killed a cyclist with his car on a street in Toronto, writes a book—28 Seconds, A TRUE STORY OF ADDICTION TRAGEDY AND HOPE—that, among other things, (a) blames the victim and/or the car for what happened, (b) condemns the police for arresting and detaining him; failing to investigate the case rigorously; and showing bias against him in those and other instances, and (c) chides the media for rushing to judgment and reporting the incident inaccurately.

That is a nutshell summary of some of the points Mr. Bryant makes in his book released on August 21, just in time for my annual trip to Toronto to visit family and friends.

So what’s the point, you may ask. Mr. Bryant got much generous media coverage that gave him friendly opportunities to display his chutzpah and perhaps sell a few more books. Does it really matter?

It matters to me, because the cyclist who died at 33 was my son, Darcy Allan Sheppard, an off-duty bicycle messenger in Toronto. It matters to Darcy Allan’s brother (and my son) David and to the many members of their large adoptive and birth families. Our reasons should need no further explanation.

It matters to Darcy Allan’s friends, colleagues and supporters (many, though not all, of them messengers and cyclists), who believe that an injustice was done when B.C. lawyer Richard Peck (a special prosecutor for the Crown brought into the case to avoid any appearance of favouritism from judges and Crown prosecutors Mr. Bryant might have appointed as Attorney General) decided to drop serious charges against Mr. Bryant, because there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction. My son’s history of addictions and violence, and his criminal record, counted strongly in favour of Mr. Bryant.

Mr. Peck’s decision was defensible with respect to law, but arguable with respect to justice. (Mr. Bryant, not surprisingly, disagrees.)

What is most unjust in the eyes of my son’s messenger and cyclist friends is the fact that Mr. Peck explained his decision in terms that led many casual and media observers to believe that Mr. Bryant had been exonerated, even absolved. That was not the case in a legal sense, but Mr. Peck seems to my son’s supporters to have gone out of his way make it so in fact and in the minds of the media and their publics.

It matters to you—or should matter to you—because Darcy Allan’s friends, colleagues, supporters and family might be right, substantially if not totally, in their belief that an injustice was done to my son, to them and, in fact, to all of us.

Yet strangely and provocatively (as in chutzpah) Mr. Bryant has written a book, and now is promoting it, arguing that injustice was done to him(!) and only to him.

I do not believe Mr. Peck’s decision to drop charges was wrong—in law. I know my son’s background and I understand how the system can work against someone with a record such as his. It raises a reasonable doubt, which is all that is needed for an acquittal. I agree with that in principle and, reluctantly, in this case. Too many people in Canada and elsewhere have been condemned to prison, even executed, when that principle was ignored.

Some of my son’s supporters agree with me; many do not. Some have expressed their concerns intemperately (http://tinyurl.com/9ze6mqa ). But we all agree that Mr. Bryant oversteps the bounds of decency, respect (and self-respect) in claiming that he had no responsibility or agency in what happened.

I invite anyone who may not know the details of the incident to enter the keywords Bryant Sheppard in an internet or Youtube search. There is much material there, on both sides of the matter.

This is my response to Mr. Bryant’s claims mentioned above:

My son and/or the car, not Mr. Bryant, were responsible for what happened.

Mr Bryant and his wife, who was with him in the car, claimed that they had been mostly passive observers at a major intersection before the crosswalk where a confrontation with my son occurred. They claimed through Mr. Peck, and Mr. Bryant later claimed in his book, that they saw my son accosting and threatening motorists and throwing garbage onto the street. They also believed, according to Mr. Peck and Mr. Bryant, that my son had moved traffic cones to obstruct motorists restricted to one lane in each direction in a construction zone. They were, therefore, apprehensive when my son appeared and stopped in front of their car as Mr. Bryant waited at a stoplight farther along the street, purportedly throwing a punch at Mr. Bryant as he passed and remaining in place when the light changed.

Mr. Bryant claims that he was terrorized by this behaviour and verbal threats from my son (who, it must be noted, remained several feet in front of him, facing forward); so much so that, in his panicked state, he could not engage the clutch, accelerator and manual gearshift properly, causing the car (not the driver!) to “lurch” forward three(!!!) times, running my son down on the third lurch. My son fell first onto the hood of the car and then to the pavement, when the car braked suddenly after travelling 30 feet.

When my son got up, he pointed to nearby witnesses and yelled, as confirmed by police and by Mr. Bryant himself in his book, “You are my witnesses.” Those are hardly words one would expect from someone intending to injure or kill another person. They are arguably the words of someone hoping to prevent a driver from leaving a collision in which he felt he had been attacked.

At that point Mr. Bryant regained control of his car (if not of himself), even though, he says, his panic increased as my son approached the car. He drove back then forward around my son and his bike, both still on the pavement. My son, in a rash act that cost his life, grabbed onto the car, my son’s supporters and I believe, to stop Mr. Bryant leaving the scene of a collision and an assault with a vehicle. Mr. Bryant did not stop. He sped away with my son hanging onto the driver’s side of the car until he was fatally injured.

Mr. Bryant claims self-defence and invokes a principle that holds that, if an accused acts as a normal, reasonable person could be expected to act in similar circumstances, he is not guilty of any consequences. This principle (which Mr. Bryant says in the book he had a hand in writing as a clerk to the Supreme Court of Canada) and precedents brought forward by the defence are hopelessly ambiguous and biased against deceased victims who cannot speak for themselves and who have unfortunate backgrounds, even when those backgrounds were not known to the accused at the time an act resulting in death took place. This ambiguity was underlined by Special Prosecutor Peck when he accepted all witness evidence (questionable as it was, in many cases) that seemed to support Mr. Bryant’s version of the confrontation and rejected all witness evidence (some of which seemed to be strong), that did not support Mr. Bryant—without, it must be added, providing any evidence (other than his saying and believing so) to validate his decisions.

Chutzpah!

The Toronto Police Service was biased against Mr. Bryant and botched its investigation

Alberta Street News and I always try to consider things police in general do and say with objectivity, but also with a rigorous skepticism. We tend not take police at face value and to judge actions as well as words, especially when it comes to the way they often seem to be biased against marginalized citizens and deferential toward elites.

Perhaps I’m guilty of personal bias, but I believe the investigating detectives who told me they investigated every lead that came to them and vigorously deny Mr. Bryant’s charges that they did not investigate leads given to them by the defence.

And I do not take seriously Mr. Bryant’s complaint that he should not have been charged at all or that, because he was held in a cell for 12 hours, he was treated differently than other drivers involved in traffic deaths who, he says, are almost always released pending completion of an investigation.

What Mr. Bryant overlooks is that many, if not most, commenters (even some of those who otherwise support him) believe that, had they been in his situation, they would surely have been arrested, charged and held for much longer than 12 hours, perhaps even until a trial.

Mr. Bryant overlooks the fact that he was not just another unfortunate driver; he was a driver with a prominent profile and political past; not to have charged or held him would have left the police facing media and public accusations that who Mr. Bryant was had led them to overlook or minimize what he appeared to have done. That may have been unfortunate for Mr. Bryant, but he was at the time the public personality he had chosen to be; the police should not have, and properly did not, defer to that reality.

Mr. Bryant overlooks the fact that he and his wife did not speak to the police for at least six months after the event. That is their right, which I accept and defend. But I cannot ignore the fact that, by remaining silent, they denied police the opportunity to investigate, (perhaps among many other things) the evidence and any possible witness accounts of events they say occurred at an earlier intersection, which they said justified their apprehension and subsequent panic when my son later joined them at the next traffic light. After six months any possible corroboration of their stories was erased or forgotten. I am not aware of any evidence that came forward, other than the reports of Mr. Bryant and his wife.

Mr. Bryant overlooks the fact that Mr. Bryant and his wife were never interrogated. They were interviewed by one member of the prosecution team and one investigating officer without prejudice as I was told by the attending officer (that is, in circumstances that would not prejudice their right not to have to testify, if the case went to trial): not under oath, without cross-examination, with their lawyers present, and with the understanding that nothing they said could be used against them.

Mr. Bryant overlooks the fact that, when he and his wife were interviewed, they had benefit of all the evidence the defence had collected. They also had, as required by law, all the evidence collected by the prosecutors.

And Mr. Bryant also overlooks the fact that in a colossal, probably unprecedented, act of generosity, Special Prosecutor Peck accepted everything he and his wife offered in his support and put the most favourable bits on the record in court, enabling Mr. Bryant to share everything he chose with the media and in his book without prejudice, so as to imply exoneration and claim unfair treatment.

Chutzpah! Chutzpah!

The media mishandled reporting of the incident, especially in early coverage, publishing and broadcasting news that portrayed Mr. Bryant negatively

Early reports were given when the names and backgrounds of the driver and victim were not known, either by reporters or the witnesses they were able to interview. By the time Mr. Bryant’s name was known, his lawyer and public relations firm had already been on the job for several hours, and it was not much later that my son’s unfortunate past and rumours of over-the-top aggression toward the Bryants (later supported by Mr. Peck, though not in any hard evidence that I have had access to and have tried to get) began to circulate in the mainstream media.

Very quickly, basically after 24 hours, the media lined up in support of Mr. Bryant and against my son. Of the hundreds of reports I have read and seen, no more than five seriously questioned Mr. Bryant’s view of the event—even when Mr. Peck’s version of the event affirmed Mr. Bryant’s version, nine months after the event and three months after Mr. Bryant first spoke to the police and the prosecution: without prejudice. Yet Mr. Bryant claims he was treated unfairly by the media. That may have been true of most alternative media; it was not true of mainstream media.

Chutzpah! Chutzpah! Chutzpah!

For Mr. Bryant to claim be the victim (and act as if he were the only victim) of injustice is at best self-serving and at worst—well, that’s somewhere I don’t want to go. I try and have tried here, to maintain objectivity, without losing passion. You are welcome to read Mr. Bryant’s book to get his side of the story. My goal is to persuade you to make up your own mind, while urging you to keep your skeptical senses in tune and alert.

I want to thank ASN’s editor, Linda Dumont, for giving me an invitation and generous space to offer some of my views on the incident that led to my son’s death, and on the aftermath, particularly Mr. Bryant’s book. And I must thank you, as readers, for taking the time to hear me out.

I am not a vindictive person. I do not want to see Mr. Bryant in jail or to see him suffer more than he already has (for he is a victim, too). But he has written a book that demands a rebuttal, and I feel I must make one.

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4 Responses to Chutzpah, thy name is Michael Bryant

  1. Frances Smith says:

    Mr. Sheppard, everything you say is what we’ve all been thinking all this time. We know there was no justice for your son: when we saw who had killed him, we knew there would be no justice whatever the evidence. As always, there’s one law for the rich and powerful and one for the rest of us. I attended the memorial ceremony at the Native Canadian Centre, although I felt I had no right to be there. I never knew your son, I knew no-one there, but I had to go. I was so shocked and horrified by what was done that I couldn’t get it out of my mind for a long time afterwards: I’m sure none of us ever will. If it’s of any comfort to you, we know, we grieve and we remember.

  2. Mr Sheppard. I am sorry you lost your son and have to go through this . I send my good wishes and my promise that I will protest every move Michael Bryant makes. What he did and continues to do is wrong. Cheryl

  3. Alan Stuart says:

    Michael Bryant carried out probably the most notorious and public hit and run accident, with many witnesses plus video coverage, in the history of Ontario. He was not cleared of any wrong doing by a court of law, charges merely having been dropped by Ontario’s attorney general due to little chance of a prosecution succeeding, on the recommendation of the special prosecutor. He is taking a huge risk in publishing the book and revealing much information that will not help him.

    The month long investigation process, with Mr. Bryant paying for whole teams of top experts, while no such paid experts represented Darcy, seems rather one sided.

    However, he has not been charged with ‘Hit and Run’. He should be in the light of his book where he does not denigh having hit and run, even admitting to thinking “Now what was I going to do? I shouldn’t leave the scene of an accident. But I wanted to get away from this guy”.

    The law is clear, having been involved in a ‘personal injury’ accident, he was obliged to stop, use his cellphone to call police, give assistance to the injured who may be in shock and screaming, and not to move his car for the investigation. So, why did he choose to run? Or even worse, why did he decide to release those brakes, when the light turned green, and run down the pedestrian he saw in front of his car, without giving any warning or blowing the horn.

    Darcy did not have a chance. Bryant could have stopped at every stage before the final momentous crash that killed Darcy, and then he sped away to stop some kilometres from the original hit. He kept going, his choice.

    Our legal system has failed us, a huge miscarriage of justice has occurred, and deep down we all know it and why.

  4. trina says:

    I was at the bike ride memorial for Darcy in June 2009. Even though I did’nt know him, I was touched by how he was badly he was portrayed via the media and spin doctors as a monster and how Bryant was the victim and eventually how he got off scott free. The justice system is very flawed. Even though Bryant was not found accountable in the eyes of the law; he will always be guilty within his heart and soul and no book or explanation will free him from the real truth. RIP Darcy

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