Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Fall of Michael Bryant & Will He Be Saved By PR?

In the summer of 2007, I saw news stories of a new Ontario law intent on curbing street racing.  The "stunt driving" law allowed for the impounding and crushing of vehicles involved in "speed racing,' i.e., driving 50 KpH over the speed limit.  The law, Bill 203, is here.  I cringed, as I saw it as horrible policy that could misapplied and easily devolve into a cash grab and divorced from the intent of the law.  Here's a link to an article reporting how a grandmother was cited under the law on Highway 7 going from Kanata to Oakville and that the Napanee judge threw out her conviction.

Who was behind this law?  It was Michael Bryant {photo below}, then Attorney General of the Province of Ontario, whose appearances on camera reminded me of the flash and opportunism of San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom.  {I still wish Matt Gonzalez won the mayorial race in 2003}.  Bryant was also responsible for the pit bull ban, but I {heh} must admit I don't have a dog in that fight, although my gut reaction is that the breed isn't the problem, it's the owner.  Bryant was a rising star in the Liberal government, but rumour has it he wasn't discreet in his ambitions and clashed with Premier Dalton McGuinty.  He stepped down from the Attorney General position to become CEO of Invest Toronto.  He has subsequently resigned his post.

Last month, I blogged about a map I created of bike routes and cycling accidents in Toronto, given my interests in transportation, urbanism and policy.  So, I was immediately interested in the Bay & Bloor "road rage" incident {HT: LinnyQat} that Bryant was in with a bike messenger, Darcy Sheppard {above}.   After some kind of altercation, Bryant allegedly drove off while Sheppard clung to the convertible Saab and went into oncoming lanes.  Sheppard, through all of this, allegedly struck trees and a mailbox, dying later in hospital.  Bryant didn't stop where Sheppard was, but went into a hotel parking lot and phoning from there.  Talk about "stunt driving."  My immediate reaction was that Bryant was going to be in a lot of hot water on this one.  I understand that the bike messenger may have been intoxicated and grabbing onto the car, but it's a bike messenger, not a Terminator, T-1000 {click on image for video}::  

A car is a deadly vehicle.  Period.  I think many drivers get insulated in their protective metallic bubbles, without day-in, day-out experience of being a pedestrian or cyclist.  As a driver, pedestrian, and cyclist, I understand the tensions arising from right-of-way clashes and near-misses, but I feel the person in the position to do harm, no matter their mode of travel, has the responsibility to not do harm.

While Adam Radwanski of the Globe & Mail made comparisons to Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, adapted by Brian de Palma::

No Peter Fallow here, since one of Bryant's first calls was to the PR firm, Navigator.  While some debate his political future and whether this is his Chapaquiddick, he has the courts to wrangle now.  Police have charged Bryant with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, with an appearance date of Oct. 19.

There is fuzzy video of the incident, which is on YouTube:

It's hard to tell what's going on, but there are annotated versions trying to explain it.  I think this case will be interesting.  The video is out there and can influence people, not to mention potential voters.  The irony of the "speed racer" law doesn't help.  The disparity in station, CEO living near Avenue Rd/St. Clair vs. bike messenger, also is fodder for negative spin.  I would ordinarily predict a plea bargain, but I think this may have spiralled out of control.  It may just turn into a Bonfire of the Vanities type of situation, but I think the evidence might sink him.  Here's a link to the BikingToronto discussion forum on the matter.

Can PS salvage his career and even political aspirations?  I hate to say it, but, depending on Bryant, yes, but only if he doesn't do jail time.  Ask Gordon Campbell out in BC.  Oh, what would Gordo do?  It might be a bit much, though, given his suspended drivers licence, for him to be seen riding around Toronto on a bike.  Although, a nice photo op. of him and his entertainment lawyer wife riding to a TIFF screening might be tough to resist.

Who needs a PR firm when you have the Toronto Star's Jim Coyle embarrassingly {what a shock} slathering treacle like this::

"It's a particularly painful aspect of the encounter that it followed on the heels of an idyllic anniversary celebration by Bryant and his wife. Their evening was so romantic and so Toronto – shawarma on College St., the Boardwalk, baklava on the Danforth – that a film crew from Invest Toronto (the outfit Bryant left politics to head, and from which he has now resigned) should have shot it as an ad.   
What seems apparent is that in the hours leading up to it Bryant did lots that was good and proper. So, too, in the confrontation.   
He probably hasn't walked away from many fights. But that night, by all accounts, he tried to disengage. It's worth remembering that Bryant is a boxer. Whatever his impulse and inclination, he opted out of the bout. The other party didn't."

The cyclist is dead.  I think Bryant pretty much failed at disengaging.  What I hope would come out of all of this is an increased consciousness of drivers to be more aware that cars can be deadly and if you can't handle the fact that cars, pedestrians, and cyclists share the roads...don't drive.  Remember from Spiderman, "with great power comes..."

Twitterversion:: Court date set 4 ex #Ontario AG, killed #Toronto bikemessenger. Called PR firm aft.arrest. T2 leading 2 Bonfire/Vanities? @Prof_K

Song:: Prison Bound - Social Distortion


Lori said...

Good post rhizomicon. I won't hold it against you that you do not favor "pitbulls" but let it be known that the legislation for the "pitbull" ban was used in the soon to be ill fated street racing law. That is exactly why we dog owners were thrown under the bus. In the hyperbole about so called "pitbulls" (which is a mutt not a breed) people thought it was all about dogs but in the meantime Bryant achieved the precedence for his street racing agenda. For the record, the purebreds used are so incredibly rare (less than 1000 dogs province wide all 3 breeds combined). You cannot identify a mutt or cross bred. There is no way to definitively determine lineage of dogs unless they are purebred. Hence the reverse onus. Warrantless search and seizure... kill your dog/crush your car.

Caveat said...

Good post - I'm so glad I missed the Coyle column. I am rather surprised by the tone, since he's been good at criticizing McGuinty's 'government'.

Small correction: Bryant was AG, then demoted to Aboriginal Affairs, then demoted again to Economic Development. While some would dispute that ED was a demotion, the fact is that Bryant is a constitutional lawyer and law professor, so the best possible job for him was AG. Anyhoo, he had 3 cabinet jobs before quitting government.

I suspect that McGuinty got tired of dealing with his off-the-wall comments to media and offered him a choice - the back bench in the Fall or his resignation. Bryant wisely chose the latter.

Why he resigned from his current job remains a mystery.

And ditto what Lori said - the whole 'pit bull' thing was just a red herring to allow for the erosion of citizens' rights. 'Pit bulls' were convenient, due to a longstanding (and completely baseless) propaganda campaign.

In politics, especially in this Ontario, it seems it's all about opportunism, not public service.

Steve Barker said...

Sorry, I don't see where rhizomicon doesn't favor "pit bulls". The only mention of the dogs is in the following sentence:

"Bryant was also responsible for the pit bull ban, but I {heh} must admit I don't have a dog in that fight, although my gut reaction is that the breed isn't the problem, it's the owner."

In my opinion, from that sentence, rhizomicon does not own a pit bull, but believes that the ban targets the wrong end of the leash.