By IAN AUSTEN
Published: September 1, 2009
OTTAWA — As the high-profile attorney general for Ontario, Michael Bryant had championed severe and controversial traffic safety laws. On Tuesday, he was charged with criminal negligence causing death and with dangerous driving causing death in an unusually violent episode of road rage involving a bicyclist.
The arrest of Mr. Bryant stemmed from a collision between a bicycle and an automobile in Toronto’s most prestigious shopping district late Monday evening. The episode started off as minor but swiftly escalated, leading to the death of Darcy Allan Sheppard, 33, who was identified as a bicycle courier.
After the collision, Mr. Sheppard apparently grabbed the driver’s side door and held on. Within moments, the police received reports of a Saab convertible racing past the fashionable shops of Bloor Street with a man clinging to its side. Two construction workers doing repairs along the road told CTV, a Canadian television network, that the car accelerated, its tires squealing, before veering into oncoming traffic on the left side of the street.
The workers said that the motorist repeatedly mounted the sidewalk and drove near lampposts in what seemed to be an attempt to brush off the man hanging onto the side.
One of the workers said the driver was “yelling pretty loud and he sounded very, very angry.” The other worker said, “He meant to knock him off.”
Several witnesses said that the clinging man flew off of the car after striking a mailbox. Sgt. Tim Burrows of the Toronto police traffic division said Mr. Sheppard died shortly after arriving at a hospital.
The convertible raced into the covered driveway of a nearby luxury hotel, the witnesses said. Not long after, Mr. Bryant was filmed by television crews sitting in the back of a police cruiser. A black Saab convertible near the hotel entrance had extensive damage on its driver’s side.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bryant left a Toronto police station after being charged. He made a brief comment, offering his “deepest condolences” to Mr. Sheppard’s family.
Until he quit politics this spring to start an economic development agency for the city of Toronto, Mr. Bryant, a Liberal, was among the highest-profile members of Ontario’s government. In his last role, as economic development minister, Mr. Bryant negotiated the province’s participation in the bailout of Chrysler and General Motors.
But it was as the province’s top law enforcement official that he produced the greatest controversy and acclaim of his 10-year political career.
Among his targets were street-racing motorists. In 2007 he gave the police the power to seize and destroy cars modified for racing even if no charges were lodged against their owners.
After describing such cars as being as dangerous as explosives, he said, “We will crush your car, we will crush the parts.”
Later that year the province passed a bill to deem any vehicle traveling more than 50 kilometers an hour, or 31 miles an hour, faster than the speed limit to be racing. The legislation, under which more than 10,000 charges have been brought, allows the police to immediately seize vehicles and suspend licenses.