26 May 2010

If Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits, shouldn't we all?

The wealthy and powerful don't always get to know what is meant by the saying, 'life isn't fair,' or 'shit happens.' It's remarkable that the editorial board of the National Post still don't understand what is meant by this. They still seem to believe that bad things don't happen to good people, that sometimes - one more time - life just isn't fair.

And what is this language - militant cyclists? class warriors? Look who are the class warriors in this piece - the journalists, the lawyers and judges, and the politicians who enabled this decision to happen and who decided to blame the guy from the lower class in society and let the privileged one off.

"But no one’s career should be derailed forever by an incident such as this" write the editors of the National Post, as though this kind of tragedy, that forever alters the course of a person's life, doesn't happen very often at all, as though this is an exceptional circumstance, and that it just shouldn't happen. Life is fair, after all, and the good and intelligent always get what they deserve! Right? Wrong. It happens to people all the time - you just don't notice it until it happens to one of you.

Take note of the more than 500 comments on the Globe and Mail article by Christie Blatchford. Not everyone thinks Michael Bryant should have gotten off as lightly as he did - or is it that most people think justice should have been permitted to take its course, through a trial.

Added May, 012

In ‘Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits,’ 2010, The National Post refers to Darcy Sheppard as having engaged in “outbursts of primal madness,” as though that couldn’t have also been explanation for the behaviour of Michael Bryant – reverting to the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome, and in this case choosing a bit of both – attempting to get Mr Sheppard to let go of the car, while trying to remove himself and his car from this situation.

Furthermore, the same piece concludes that “Mr. Bryant should be judged in future — politically or otherwise — according to his merits, or lack thereof.” If this bit of wisdom could also be applied to other people who found themselves in unfortunate, adverse circumstances, instead of having the event used forever as proof of personal, internal failings, the world might be a more just place in which to live.

Christie Blatchford writes,

“He [special prosecutor Richard Peck] went out of his way to speak kindly about the dead man, noting that he brought up Mr. Sheppard’s unlucky background (aboriginal, probably undiagnosed fetal alcohol syndrome, seized by child welfare and placed with his brother David in a staggering 30 foster homes before being adopted) and highlights of his criminal record “not to demonize Mr. Sheppard or for anyone to suggest he somehow deserved his fate,” but rather because in a case where self-defence was claimed, these were relevant facts” (For Mr Bryant, an extraordinary, 2010).

In other situations, bringing in relevant facts may be seen as an attempt to discredit the honourable person being discussed, not as an attempt to discover the truth of the matter. And it’s not simply the words one speaks; it’s the tone in which they are uttered that matter. Running Darcy Sheppard down in a “kindly” fashion, while simply ignoring many of Michael Bryant’s actions that day, can lead others’ understanding of the situation in a certain direction, and not to one that is fair judgement of what happened that day. Bringing in the personal background and past history of Mr Sheppard, knowing that Michael Bryant’s credentials were near perfect, is an unfair comparison. Is this what Mr Peck did, and by doing so imply that the questionable actions taken by Mr Bryant that day were an aberration, unusual considering his personality and background, ie. if he did anything wrong at all?

This must be one of those situations that fit within the realm of the moral dilemma – how to bring justice to this situation. It’s too bad that justice for Michael Bryant could only be achieved by placing the blame on Darcy Sheppard. I suppose, in our world, especially in our legal system, there is no place for matters that fall in between right and wrong, that really are unusual circumstances that need an unusual resolution (and I imagine a lot of cases fall with in that grey area). Whatever Darcy Sheppard’s faults, he didn’t deserve to have this case dismissed so early in the judicial process, leaving Michael Bryant not simply ‘not guilty’ of the charges laid, but completely innocent of anything untoward.

The Toronto Star is right, that Michael Bryant “deserves public understanding,” that “What happened to him could happen to anyone” (Justice in Michael Bryant case, 2010). But the newspaper is not correct in concluding that what happened in the aftermath of the tragedy speaks well of the legal system. For one person involved, the legal system worked well, but not for Darcy Sheppard.

In a similar manner, Franco Tarulli writes, “Ontario did exactly the right thing in this case, and the result is exactly what ought to have happened” (Michael Bryant: “Extraordinary” justice?, 2010). Justice may have been served, for Michael Bryant, but the way the special prosecutor handled the case doesn’t appear to have been fair. Bringing up Darcy Sheppard’s past failings and personal background as evidence that this was what caused the incident to happen was premature. There was no trial, and this should have no more place in the public’s mind than the damage committed, for whatever reason, by Bryant and the car he was driving.

For Michael Bryant, an extraordinary kind of justice
By Christie Blatchford
Globe and Mail
May 25, 2010

Justice in Michael Bryant case
Toronto Star
May 26, 2010

Michael Bryant: “Extraordinary” justice?
By Franco P. Tarulli
The Ethical Lawyer
May 30, 2010

Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits
By National Post editorial board
National Post
May 25, 2010

Links updated May, 2012

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