Cheol Joon Baek
In The Joys Of Yiddish, author Leo Rosten defines "chutzpah" 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."
I'd like to propose an alternative definition: that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed a cyclist with his car, writes a book that, among other things, a) blames the victim and/or the car, b) condemns the police for arresting him, failing to investigate the case rigorously and showing bias against him, c) chides the media for rushing to judgment.
That is a nutshell summary of some of the points Michael Bryant makes in his book 28 Seconds: A True Story Of Addiction, Tragedy And Hope.
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 Darcy Allan Sheppard, the cyclist who died, was my son. It matters to his 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 and supporters, who believe an injustice was done when BC lawyer Richard Peck, the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General's special prosecutor for this case, decided to drop serious charges against 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 Bryant's favour.
Peck's decision was defensible with respect to the law but arguable with respect to justice. (Bryant, not surprisingly, disagrees.) What is most unjust in the eyes of my son's cyclist friends is that Peck explained his decision in terms that led many casual observers to believe that Bryant had been exonerated, even absolved.
Darcy Allan Sheppard
I know my son's background and understand how the system can work against someone with a record such as his. It raises a reasonable doubt, which is all that's 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. But we all agree that Bryant oversteps the bounds of decency, respect (and self-respect) in claiming he had no agency in what happened.
Bryant claims self-defence and invokes the principle 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 Bryant says 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 may have unfortunate backgrounds.
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 Bryant's version and rejected all witness evidence (some of which seemed strong) that did not support Bryant - without, it must be added, providing any evidence to validate his decisions.
Further, I do not think Toronto police were biased against Bryant and botched the investigation, as Bryant claims. I believe the investigating detectives who told me they checked into every lead that came to them and who vigorously deny Bryant's charge that they failed to probe leads given them by the defence.
And I don't take seriously Bryant's complaint that he shouldn't 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.
Bryant also overlooks the fact that in a colossal, probably unprecedented, act of generosity, Peck accepted everything he and his wife offered in his support and put the most favourable bits on the record in court. This allowed Bryant to share everything he chose with the media and in his book without prejudice, and to imply exoneration and claim unfair treatment.
Bryant claims the media mishandled reporting of the incident, especially in early coverage, publishing and broadcasting news that portrayed him negatively. But by the time his name was known, his lawyer and public relations firm had already been on the job for several hours, and it wasn't much later that my son's unfortunate past and rumours of over-the-top aggression toward the Bryants began to circulate.
Basically, after 24 hours, the press lined up in support of Bryant and against my son. Yet Bryant claims he was treated unfairly.
I try, and have tried here, to maintain objectivity without losing passion. I am not a vindictive person and do not want to see Bryant in jail or suffer more than he already has (for he is a victim, too). But he has written a book that demands a rebuttal.
A longer version of this article appeared in Edmonton's Alberta Street News.