In August 2009, an altercation between former Attorney-General Michael Bryant and bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard on Bloor Street ended with Sheppard’s death and Bryant’s descent into public shame. Yesterday, just over three years later, around the corner from where the original accident occurred, Michael Bryant launched 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy and Hope at the Toronto Reference Library—a memoir that recounts the tragedy from Bryant’s perspective.
Outside the library, a group of bike couriers and supporters made sure that Sheppard’s wasn’t forgotten.
“We’re here because somebody died, and somebody wrote a book about it. We think that’s incredibly disrespectful to the memory of Darcy Allan Sheppard,” said the protest’s organizer, Benjamin Mueller-Heaslip, to the approximately 50-person crowd that gathered on the corner of Yonge Street and Asquith Avenue. “I’ve read his book—he begins the opening paragraph by comparing himself to Job and his suffering. That’s incredibly wrong, and as people we have to stand up and say ‘Enough.’ And remind him of who the real victim is.”
Using 11 paper gravestones bearing the dates of Sheppard’s birth and death, along with his bike courier number #140 and the quote “You never ride alone,” some of yesterday’s participants created a mini graveyard to greet guests as they arrived at the library. However, as Mueller-Heaslip suspected, there must have been an alternative entrance available: they never spotted Bryant or the guests who had been invited to the launch. Nonetheless the group, some dressed in their bike gear and others dressed in business wear, silently stood in remembrance while holding their signs, bouquets of flowers at their feet.
“Sorry it’s a little DIY, but we don’t have a PR company to help us out,” Mueller-Heaslip explained as he passed out the gravestones, referring to Bryant’s first move after the 2009 accident—calling public relations firm Navigator Ltd.
Bryant has been relatively silent in the years since August 2009 and charges of dangerous driving causing death and criminal negligence causing death were dropped. He appeared in Toronto this past March at the ROM, which also drew a crowd of protesters, but 28 Seconds—which chronicles his past with alcoholism, the breakup of his marriage, and the sudden death of his brother—marks a clear leap for Bryant back into the spotlight.
“The goal of [Bryant’s PR campaign] from the start has been to demonize Al Sheppard,” said Mueller-Heaslip, about the bike courier who had his own history of violence and alcohol abuse. “And this book is the endgame of that campaign, as I see it.”
Bryant’s book has been a major headline in virtually all of Canada’s major news outlets, the commentary on and interviews with the 46-year-old former MP ranging from softball to scathing. Among those who aren’t buying what Bryant is selling are Sheppard’s past bike courier colleagues, who comprised of about one third of yesterday’s protesters.
One of these was Sonia Serba, also known as Sunny D. She was just starting to get to know Sheppard (or as she knew him, “Al”) when he died. Without many resources or funds, she and her fellow courier friends found another way to honour Sheppard, with a song they wrote for him called “Apparently (Al Sheppard).”
“We wanted to use our own talents. If we can come together and make something that people want to see and share, maybe it will go viral and that will battle this PR machine. Let’s say our point of view, do whatever little we can to counteract this storm that this murd— This killer has brought down on my friend,” she said.
Mueller-Heaslip also spent a few years as a bike courier, but says he left the job just as Sheppard was beginning. Staging protests like this and the one in March is more an act of conscience than borne out of any direct obligation to Sheppard and his family. Now that Bryant’s media tour is calming down, Mueller-Heaslip hopes this will be the last time he’ll need to organize a public demonstration.
“I take no pleasure in doing this. I love these guys, but I’d rather be at home playing with my son. But it’s something that has to be done. I hope this is his last stop in Toronto, and I think the way public sentiment has been going, it very well might be,” he said. “I think that this has been a long attempt for him to get back into the position that he had, I think that it’s not working, and I think that he’s going to be losing support. And I hope that he recognizes what it means—which is that it’s him, it’s not what happened.”