The events Monday night in Toronto have the media and net buzzing.  (If you haven’t read about it yet, this Toronto Star article will get you started). While facts, opinions, observations, and premature conclusions dribble out in response to seemingly insatiable public curiosity, there is a question few are asking: What would you do?

Incidents like this are complex and journalists have a difficult job. The facts are difficult to ascertain and they must try to make sense of what they can learn. Only one person could have told us, for a fact, exactly what happened on Monday night. Unfortunately he was allegedly intoxicated at the time and died shortly afterward. The other party obviously knows the details of his own involvement, but not the history. And since he’s been charged with a crime it would be silly for him to discuss it with anyone other than his lawyer.

Many Canadians are under false the impression that our criminal justice system is about determining the truth.  It isn’t.  Truth, if found, is a by-product, not the primary objective.  Our criminal justice system considers only the evidence produced in court. The Crown tries to introduce sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while the individual may or may not introduce evidence in support of their innocence. And in the end, the accused is found either “guilty” or “not guilty”.  The verdict of “innocent” doesn’t exist in our system.

Our criminal justice system also operates after the fact. Our laws tell us what we must not do, but rarely provide practical guidance. In fact, they are often such a complex mix of statue and precedent that even lawyers don’t agree on what the law actually is. And when the proverbial fertilizer hits the rotary bladed object, nobody is thinking about that anyway.

I’m not going to contribute to the speculation on what happened. Instead, I’m going to ask you to discard whatever preconceptions you have and consider three hypothetical situations:

  1. You’re a police officer called to a minor disturbance. The person who appears to be causing it is somewhat intoxicated and has a bicycle, but hasn’t broken the law, at least not seriously. You determine that he should go home. What would you do?
  2. You’re an alcoholic who has fallen off the wagon. The police have told you to go home, you’re riding your bicycle drunk, and you have a minor collision with a guy in a Saab. He’s angry with you and you’re angry with him. You exchange words and he begins to drive away. What would you do?
  3. You and your wife are driving home from an anniversary dinner in a convertible. You’re involved in a minor collision with a cyclist.  He doesn’t appear hurt, just angry. Drunk and angry. He picks up his bike and throws it on the ground and slams his bag on your hood. You decide to drive away to end the confrontation, but he chases after your car and grabs on to the driver’s door. What would you do?

We don’t know for sure what happened on Monday, and before we speculate on whether Michael Bryant should be punished for it, we should be asking not only what happened, but also what we would do in his shoes.

A small group of cyclists in Toronto appear very polarized around this event. They’re trying to turn this into a cyclist vs. motorist issue. Understandably, many cyclists feel that drivers don’t respect their right to be on the road and point to this as an example.  On the other hand, many drivers are frustrated by cyclists who on one hand demand to be treated as equals on the road, yet ignore the rules of the road when it suits them. Then there are those of us who have driven cars, trucks, bicycles and motorcycles – and we’ve literally seen it from all angles.

While the dialog that may ensue about how motorists and bicycles can best share the road might prove productive, that’s not what this case is about. They’re separate issues. This case is about two men who had an encounter that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. One of them, Michael Bryant, stands charged with a crime and at best will be forced to spend a small fortune to defend himself. The other, Darcy Allan Sheppard, is dead.

And the question remains:  What would you do?

6 Responses to What would you do?

  1. Softmelon
    Sep 02, 2009

    I don’t know what I would do but I do know I wouldn’t be caught dead driving a SAUB!

    While you are making “clever” hypothesis utilizing word for word speculation from the internet how about this one.

    1. You ride a bike every single day for a living taking your life into your hands to make a buck. Each day you are cut off and yelled at by pompous jerks who are very brave within the protection of their “weapon on wheels”. One day, not only are you hit by one, you are hit by one driven by a person not exactly known for sound judgment or rational thinking. The driver, a politician who thinks he is above the commoners tells you to F-Off and then flees the scene of an accident! You naturally run after him. You can’t believe it since the last time you checked a HIT AND RUN was illegal. You are too stunned to take down the license plate and make the decision to chase after him and grab onto his door. Realizing now that the Saub driver is a subhuman politician known for such rash decisions as banning Pit Bulls, you cling for dear life as he makes every attempt to kill you including reckless driving and the endangerment of others (namely potential drivers that could have been coming in oncoming traffic.) Oh god, is that a mailbox up ahead? You see it coming. What do you do?

    All of this is as you say “hypothetical” of course.

    I like your article, I really do. However, don’t hide behind the words HYPOTHETICAL. You ARE indeed adding to the speculation whether you like it or not while contributing to the bias that the cyclist was a drunken maniac. I just want it known that the driver was potentially a ROAD RAGE LUNATIC. Oh and I admit I am totally biased against Michael Bryant and those people like him. He showed his true colours leaving someone bleeding in the street.

    Maniacs and lunatics all around I guess but one was using a car as a weapon and the other is dead.

  2. mike
    Sep 03, 2009

    How do you know the driver initiated the ‘hit & run’?
    The guy was a drunk, looking for ANOTHER fight and got was he deserved.

  3. kingthorin
    Sep 03, 2009


    “You ride a bike every single day for a living taking your life into your hands to make a buck. Each day you are cut off and yelled at by pompous jerks who are very brave within the protection of their “weapon on wheels”.”

    1) Yes this happens. 2) Yes bike riders also ignore the rules of the road and yell at drivers in cars. Big deal it goes both ways. It’s not like there is a lack of choices here, if you’re unhappy how car drivers treat you as a bike rider….don’t ride a bike. If as a car driver you’re unhappy with how bike riders treat you, don’t drive a car. If you’re completely unhappy being on either side, take public transit or a taxi.

    “Oh god, is that a mailbox up ahead? You see it coming. What do you do?”

    The obvious answer would seem to be “let go” if you value your life at all.
    Actually one would assume that the logical choice is not to grab onto a moving car at all. But to simply record the license and report the issue to the police.

    “I just want it known that the driver was potentially a ROAD RAGE LUNATIC.”

    Although your name calling YELLING is quite amusing your practical use of “potentially” kind of ruins the rant. Though I’m sure by YELLING you hope people will ignore your use of “potentially” and focus on the YELLING while assuming it’s based on some sort of fact (which obviously it isn’t).

    “You ARE indeed adding to the speculation whether you like it or not while contributing to the bias that the cyclist was a drunken maniac.”

    Where’s the bias? It seems pretty cut and dry.
    Either he was drunk or he wasn’t.
    Either he was a maniac or he wasn’t.
    Applying some simple logic to your earlier point about the mailbox and what to do leads to a fairly solid answer to the maniac question.
    Once the tox results are in we’ll have a solid answer to your first question (i.e.: drunk or not).

    Does it really matter if he was drink, if he was a maniac, or if both apply? It seems obvious that holding on to a car to the point that you slam into a mailbox causing yourself serious bodily harm means one of the two or both are correct.

    I’m pretty sure that a sober or non-maniacal individual can do the logic on holding on to a moving vehicle and the consequences of being slammed into a mailbox.

  4. kingthorin
    Sep 03, 2009

    Just to clarify I don’t think it’s exactly logical to choose to drive around with someone hanging off your car either. Michael should have stopped when it was obvious the biker wasn’t going to let go.

    On the topic of hit&run, I’m not sure where that comes from if the car driver stopped to phone 911 … there was a hit but where’s the run part come from? Does running = reporting yourself by calling 911?

  5. Eric Jacksch
    Sep 03, 2009

    Interesting discussion so far 🙂

    My intent was to get people to think about how they might react. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback and state how we think people should have reacted for the safety and tranquility of our armchairs.

    As for the case, I think the forensic and toxicology reports will be interesting, but I guess we’ll have to wait until the trial for those details.

  6. Evolving Squid
    Sep 13, 2009

    I was thinking about this and it dawned on me how, if any of the people involved had a can of mace or pepper spray handy, the odds are nobody would be dead or even seriously injured.

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