Editorial: Bryant case a high mark for justice system

The withdrawal of charges against former attorney general Michael Bryant predictably raised complaints about the fairness of Ontario’s justice system.

Cyclists, in particular, lamented that Bryant wouldn’t face a trial for his role in the death of bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard last summer.

But prosecutor Richard Peck was meticulous in explaining why the case couldn’t go forward. While being careful to emphasize that Sheppard didn’t deserve his fate, Peck noted the cyclist had acted aggressively by confronting Bryant in downtown Toronto as he returned from an anniversary dinner with his wife that August night.

After watching Sheppard throw his bag onto the hood or windshield and then latch onto the car, Bryant was justifiably fearful when he continued driving despite the risk to the cyclist’s life.

The case is a high mark for the justice system. In an unusual set of moves, the players involved were remarkably transparent about what took place. While it’s arguable that Bryant suffered needlessly by having police take him away in a cruiser and then charged, it’s hard to imagine how things could have been different.

The cycling community was already outraged over the incident itself, and had Bryant not faced potential criminal sanction, the protests would have created a massive divide in Toronto.

So by appointing an out-of-province prosecutor with a sterling reputation to move the case forward, the Ministry of the Attorney General handled the matter deftly and freed itself of accusations of political interference. Peck, too, did everyone a favour by explaining his decisions in detail.

As a result, the public fervour is relatively muted, with much of the discussion revolving around whether Bryant has a future in politics and whether it would have been wiser to allow the case to proceed to trial.

Bryant now deserves to go back to private life without the stigma of criminal suspicion. As for the justice system itself, it’s clear that the case, if not Bryant himself, received special treatment, which is the only way it could have been given the sensitivity surrounding his former role as head of the Ministry of the Attorney General.

At the same time, the transparency shown in the matter was refreshing, something we can hope to see happen in similarly sensitive cases in the future.

On that score, the Bryant affair sits in stark contrast with that of former federal MP Rahim Jaffer. In that case, prosecutors declined to exercise their discretion to explain why they withdrew drug charges against him. If Peck could do so with Bryant, they could have done the same in the Jaffer matter.
- Glenn Kauth

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