24 August 2012

Brian Crockett: not another Michael Bryant 'justice' story

updated Aug 30, 2012; Nov 8, 2012

Two years ago, former attorney-general Michael Bryant, while driving his car in Toronto, was involved in an incident with the cyclist Darcy Sheppard, resulting in Darcy’s death.

On Saturday, August 18, Brian Crockett, Crown Attorney for Oxford County, was charged with impaired driving and failing to provide a breath sample. The Woodstock Police Department and the Fire Department responded to the call of a pickup truck in the ditch (Impaired Driver, Aug 19, 2012; Oxford County Crown Attorney, Aug 20, 2012).

Coincidentally, Michael Bryant, former Attorney-general of Ontario, has just announced the release of his new book, ‘28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy and Hope,’ although public reception of it hasn’t been good. In it, he criticizes the Toronto Police for jumping in too fast to lay charges (Police reject Michael Bryant’s criticism, Aug 21, 2012). He was initially charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death (Bryant charged, Sept, 2009) but the charges were dropped.

One news report on Brian Crockett’s unfortunate incident congratulated the police on doing their duty and not simply letting Crockett off – hardly an expression of faith in our legal system (Kudos for cops in Crockett arrest, Aug 23, 2012). But seeing how Michael Bryant managed to escape due process and possible punishment leaves one wondering.

Obviously, the charges facing Brian Crockett are not even close to the severity of those Bryant had initially faced. The whole purpose of laying a charge of impaired driving – and being strict about it, even for first time offenders – is to lessen the chances of future incidents involving needless death due to impairment. Perhaps it is assumed that some people are likely to benefit more from punishment than others, for whom a one-off is really just that – a one-time incident that will never happen again.

One reader commented that she “supported” Brian Crockett, though what she meant by that isn’t clear, whether it meant she would be bringing him home-baked cookies if he ended up behind bars, or was trying to influence opinion. What she did was judge him on his reputation – his career, and his family and community standing. And just as it was with Michael Bryant, the claim was made that stress had something to do with it, as though it is only people with high status careers who feel such stress and whose lives are difficult. If this is the case, with Brian Crockett, perhaps being relieved of his duties might help (and also relieved of the $200,000 salary). Then he could partake of living a stress-free life, and use a bicycle and public transportation to get around on.

I know Brian Crockett has done good deeds, years ago helping those with little or nothing. Whatever happens now, making one mistake shouldn't have to result in a person's reputation or career being destroyed. I’m sure no one wants to see Brian Crockett be punished for lack of good judgment, if that’s what happened, but if one person escapes paying a penalty while another one is punished, for the same deed, then is that justice? Is it the deed that matters, or does social context (work, family, community) – and character - count just as much? See ‘If Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits, shouldn't we all?, May 26, 2010).

Added Aug 30, 2012

In December, 2005, while still living in the UK, where I had been doing a PhD, I started writing a blog, and one of the first pieces I wrote was about an entertainment writer – Nick Douglas - who had committed suicide (Taking action to prevent, or passively doing nothing, Dec 22, 2005). A magazine writer – Barry O’Kane - claimed afterwards that it was the actions of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HPFA) that had driven him to it, by taking away his livelihood (Golden Globes 'forced writer to suicide,' Dec 22, 2005).

In response, the HPFA claimed that it was simply untrue that Mr Douglas had been denied the opportunity to make a living as an entertainment journalist. And yet, taking away Douglas’s access to resources, and undermining his attempts to be reconized and gain access to important activities of the HPFA, in effect, did limit his capacity to make a living. Douglas was able to continue trying to make do, without the support of the members of the association he belonged to. But without their support, his efforts were almost guaranteed to fail.

Sometimes people like to pretend that a person’s ability to succeed at their career depends on merit, when the real truth is that the person’s social network, membership in the right organizations, and family and community status matter more. People in power may pretend they have done the right thing in allowing someone to continue to work, and may not be doing anything that would actively prevent the person from pursuing their career, but their passive approach could be enough to prevent that person from moving forward.

On reading Jennifer Wells’s article on Michael Bryant’s memoir, we learn that he said nothing to Mr Sheppard throughout the 28 seconds. “I didn’t want to provoke him in any way,” he says. “I didn’t say anything to him at all” (Michael Bryant’s memoir 28 Seconds, Aug 18, 2012).

And yet, isn’t it just this sort of passivity that can cause harm – at least misunderstandings – through lack of communication? What if Bryant had tried to talk to Darcy, to apologize for his car lurching forward, unintentionally, he says, as it had stalled. Why didn’t he explain this to the person who needed to hear it – Darcy Sheppard - instead of to readers of his book?

Which one is the victim, when we look at the story in its broadest terms? Who has been hardest done by, and whose life stagnates as the rich and powerful seek out ‘understanding’ and ‘justice,’ on their own behalf?

Additional information: added Nov 8, 2012

The Brian Crockett impaired driving case has ended, with a fine and a 12 month loss of driver’s licence for The Crown attorney (See Oxford Crown attorney Brian Crockett pleads guilty to impaired driving, London Free Press, Nov 7, 2012; Oxford Crown attorney Brian Crockett pleads guilty to impaired driving, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Nov 7, 2012).

Another noteworthy case is that of Bonita Purtill, also coming out of Woodstock, which ended in Sept, 2012, with a 7 year prison sentence (see ‘The Bonita Purtill impaired driving case: unanswered questions and other matters’ Oct 17, 2012).

The Bonita Purtill impaired driving case: unanswered questions and other matters
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
Oct 17, 2012

Bryant charged with criminal negligence after crash

Sept 1, 2009

Court date set for Crown facing impaired charges
By Heather Rivers and Ron Thomson
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Aug 22, 2012

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

Golden Globes 'forced writer to suicide' (added Aug 30, 2012)
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Independent online World News - Americas
Dec 22, 2005

If Michael Bryant should be judged on his merits, shouldn't we all?
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
May 26, 2010

Impaired Driver   (link added Aug 26, 2012)
Excerpt from Media Release prepared by: S/Sgt Shelton
Woodstock Police Service
Aug 19, 2012

Kudos for cops in Crockett arrest
By Andrea Demeer
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Aug 23, 2012

Michael Bryant and Darcy Sheppard: divided by class
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
Sept 10, 2009

Michael Bryant’s memoir 28 Seconds recounts tragic death of bicycle courier (added Aug 30, 2012)
By Jennifer Wells
The Star
Aug 18, 2012

Oxford County Crown Attorney Brian Crockett faces impaired driving charge
By Ron Thomson
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Aug 20, 2012

Police reject Michael Bryant’s criticism of probe into fatal 2009 incident
The Star
Aug 21, 2012

Taking action to prevent, or passively doing nothing: is there a diffference? (added Aug 30, 2012)
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
Dec 22, 2005

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