Charges against Bryant in fatal crash withdrawn

Crown prosecutors have withdrawn all criminal charges against former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant stemming from the death of a bicycle courier in downtown Toronto.

Cyclist involved in 6 previous altercations with motorists: prosecutor

Former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant says the 28-second incident that led to the death of a bicycle courier in downtown Toronto last August was "horrifying."

Bryant spoke to reporters Tuesday, hours after Crown prosecutors withdrew all criminal charges against him stemming from the death of Darcy Allen Sheppard.

"What I will never forget for the rest of my life is the unnecessary tragedy of that night," Bryant said. "A young man is dead, and for his family and friends that remains the searing memory. To them, I express my sympathies and sincere condolences."

Richard Peck, a prosecutor brought in from British Columbia to handle the case, told a Toronto court Tuesday morning there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.

Former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant arrives at a court in Toronto on Tuesday, when the Crown withdrew charges involving an altercation with a bike courier. (CBC)

Peck said in court that the decision not to pursue the case was "mine and mine alone."

Bryant was originally charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death after a confrontation with Sheppard on the evening of Aug. 31, 2009.

Criminal negligence causing death carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, while dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death carries a maximum 14-year term.

Police had alleged that Sheppard died after grabbing onto a car on Bloor Street West following an altercation with the driver.

In court, Peck said Bryant and his wife panicked when Sheppard came into their car.

Forensic experts concluded Sheppard was trying to attack Bryant, Peck added.

Video of the incident shows Sheppard leaned into the driver side of Bryant’s car near the steering wheel, and was holding onto the car as it moved forward, veering to the wrong side of the road.

Peck's report said Sheppard's left torso hit a fire hydrant located close to the south curb in area of 131 Bloor St. West. The blow dislodged him from Bryant's car, and caused him to strike his head either on the curb or a raised portion of the roadway.

"The impact was fatal," according to Peck's executive summary.

"Our conclusion is that Mr. Bryant had been attacked by a man who unfortunately was in a rage," Peck later said outside court. "In such circumstances, he was legally justified in attempting to get away. The case could not be proved."

Sheppard's struggles detailed

The cyclist's blood-alcohol concentration at the time of his death was measured at 0.183, more than twice the legal limit, court was told. 

"Mr. Sheppard struggled with alcohol, drug use and psychiatric issues," said Peck, who added that he was trying to outline the facts in the case and not trying to "demonize" Sheppard.

Peck detailed six previous altercations — including one that happened the same day as the incident with Bryant —  involving Sheppard and motorists who called police after seeing Sheppard's photo, which Peck said indicated "a pattern of escalating behaviour with motorists leading to the fateful incident."

In one case, Sheppard smashed a car mirror, and in another he reached into a BMW trying to snatch keys, Peck told the court.

Family, friends react

Outside of court, Allan Sheppard, the father of the dead cyclist, said he didn't know what result would have made him happy.

"The people who made the decisions, they heard me, they listened to me, they talked to me with great respect. They reached a decision that I'll accept."

Misty Bailey, the dead cyclist's girlfriend, was more direct.

"The message I'm getting is we deserve to die for riding a bike," she said. "There's no repercussions."

Bryant was elected as the Liberal MPP for St. Paul's riding in 1999 and won re-election in 2003 — becoming the province's youngest-ever attorney general at the time — and again in 2007. He also served as aboriginal affairs minister and minister of economic development.

Bryant remained an Ontario cabinet minister until May of last year when he stepped down to take the job as president and CEO of Invest Toronto, an arm's-length agency set up by the City of Toronto to promote investment. Until then, he had been frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Premier Dalton McGuinty as leader of the province's Liberals.

Bryant is a Harvard-trained lawyer who clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada and later taught law at the University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall and King's College, London.

With files from The Canadian Press