Ian Mulgrew: Discouraged by the raging death on the road in 2009, a man with hopes of being prime minister of Ontario returns to British Columbia as head of Legal Aid

Michael Bryant to take over as CEO of Legal Aid BC in January

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Once considered a contender for Ontario’s prime minister, a chastened Michael Bryant returns to his home province to lead Legal Aid BC.


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55-year-old former cabinet minister with Dalton McGuinty Liberal The provincial government, dejected by a highly publicized roadside death, will replace Legal Aid CEO Mark Benton in a generational change of leadership.

As head of Legal Aid for the past two decades, Benton faced savage budget cuts imposed at the turn of the century by a liberal British Columbia government, providing services on very little money and regularly cajoling underpaid lawyers to work for the people in need.

He led the organization through those storms and today faces different challenges helping some 27,000 people annually with a much more supportive NDP administration in Victoria.

Attorney General David Eby sent more money, made a deal with him Legal Aid Association lawyers and transferred to an Aboriginal agency for the provision of some legal services to indigenous peoples, which sadly is the largest group in need.


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For the past four years, Bryant has been Executive Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“During Michael’s tenure, the CCLA has modernized and grown in many ways,” said Andrew Lokan, chairman of the board. “We have never been in a stronger position to fulfill our mandate to protect the civil liberties of all Canadians. We are very grateful for everything he has done and we wish him the best in his new role. “

At first glance, the appointment may seem strange: another licensed white male hired to run an organization whose impoverished clientele includes minorities, indigenous peoples, and vulnerable individuals.

But Bryant comes with a resume, government skills, and most importantly, trauma and especially relevant personal experience that gives him a unique and pertinent perspective.


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Raised on Vancouver Island, where his father Ray was mayor of Esquimalt from 1966 to 1969, Bryant earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of British Columbia. He graduated from Osgoode Hall School of Law in 1992 and earned an LL.M. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1994.

A Fulbright member, he served as a clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada, then joined Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City, taught law at King’s College London in England, and practiced at McCarthy Tetrault. In 1997, he also became an adjunct professor of international law at the University of Toronto before entering provincial politics.

Defeating future Ontario Liberal Prime Minister Kathleen Wynne Bryant by nomination in downtown Toronto at St. Paul’s, Bryant defeated the incumbent Progressive Conservative Cabinet Minister by nearly 5,000 votes and would hold the race for a decade.


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He served as an opposition critic for the attorney general for the first four years.

After the Liberals won a majority in 2003, he was appointed attorney general and responsible for native affairs and democratic renewal.

Bryant introduced a controversial stunt driving law and encouraged police to impound and crush the modified vehicles. He wanted a complete national ban on firearms.

Re-elected in 2007, he was appointed Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Head of the House of Government and, in 2008, Minister of Economic Development.

With rumors of a showdown with McGuinty over his growing ambition to one day be prime minister, Bryant left politics in June 2009 to become CEO of Invest Toronto.

The rise of her remarkable career came to a sudden halt as she celebrated her twelfth wedding anniversary.


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On September 1, 2009, Bryant was arrested after an incident that resulted in the death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard on a Toronto street. The 33-year-old reportedly clung to Bryant’s car and, as it drove away, hit the pavement after hitting a mailbox and a tree. Bryant was charged with dangerous driving that caused death and criminal negligence.

The charges were dropped after BC attorney Richard Peck, a designated prosecutor to avoid conflicts of interest, concluded that “there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.”

Regardless, one man was dead, and Bryant’s life was shattered: he quit his job, his marriage ended, any resumption of his political career seemingly died out.

Bryant found comfort in a Toronto homeless drop-in center and, in 2018, told CBC’s Metro Morning: “I ended up there through a series of events and found myself connecting and identifying with people, and learning from the people he knew. He had not previously identified himself and, frankly, I was afraid of him. “


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He also wrote a book in 2011: 28 seconds – a moving account of his life and the tragedy of Sheppard’s death.

“He was a human being and he lost his life and that is something that I cannot undo and I cannot go back, so what can I do today? This is how I am living, ”he said in the radio interview.

In his confessional atonement, Bryant was candid about fighting alcoholism and the flaws he saw in the legal system, such as the futility of incarcerating addicts and the mentally ill.

In 2015, he began working as a legal advisor for Legal Aid Ontario. A year later, he partnered with King Law Chambers to provide legal aid to the homeless and indigenous peoples while also negotiating Aboriginal land claims.

In 2018, he was appointed executive director of the civil liberties association.

Bryant’s fiery life transformation, atonement, and focus since then has given him a deep, first-hand understanding of what those in need have been through: “I know that feeling a little bit because I was there and I know how scary it is. being on the other side of that window with those fists. “

His experience in government, tempered by that, bodes well for Legal Aid BC.

Saying the new position was a wonderful opportunity, Bryant declined an interview and said he wanted to wait until after January 17 when the job begins.

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