Cyclists, cars, and cops don’t mix

By Gordon Sinclair Jr.
From the Winnipeg Free Press
published April 20, 2013

The cautionary tale of Cyril and Moe

I suppose you could call this a cautionary tale.

But it’s more than that.

You might also call it an ugly example of the guerilla road war between motorists and cyclists that usually heats up with the spring weather.

But it’s more than that, too.

For a year now, I’ve been tracking the case of the pair I’ll call Cyril the Cyclist and Moe the Motorist.

The story begins on the chilly morning of April 18, 2012, when both were on their way to work, headed north with the early-morning airport traffic on Century Street.

That’s when the altercation happened.

According to a police report I would wait 11 months to finally see, a cruiser was dispatched at 7:46 a.m. that Wednesday. Two days later, in an email to the Free Press, the cyclist, then 23, would describe what happened from his perspective.

Cyril wrote that he had strayed about a metre away from the east curb because of puddles and potholes, and that several vehicles passed him without issue until the driver of a minivan, upset at the cyclist who was blocking the lane, “laid on his horn and flew past me, leaving inches between my left shoulder and his mirror.”

It was Moe the Motorist, a man who appeared to be at least two decades older than Cyril.

“I made eye contact with the driver and gave him a dirty look,” Cyril wrote. “He had already begun to hastily roll his window down and started to shout at me.”

The usual back-and-forth name-calling ensued, followed by Moe reaching out his open window and punching Cyril in the left eye.

And then speeding off.

Cyril managed to get the licenceplate number and called 911.

When the two officers responded, Cyril told them he wanted to press charges for assault. He said police responded by saying something along the lines of “we may just give him a traffic ticket for imprudent driving.”

Later, after interviewing the driver, police called Cyril at work.

The victim and the accused were about to change roles.

Moe the Motorist didn’t deny striking the cyclist in face, but he claimed Cyril initiated it all by starting the screaming match and then spitting on him.

Cyril would deny he spit on Moe.

That left police to try to defuse the incident by telling Cyril the assaults were “very minor in nature” and no one should be charged. Again Cyril insisted the driver shouldn’t get away with hitting him. Police cautioned him that he may be charged with assault, too, but Cyril wouldn’t back down.

Later that afternoon, after consulting their sergeant, police arrested Cyril at work and charged him with assault and a highway traffic offence for straying too far from the curb.

Two days later, Cyril would write this: “The whole situation left me feeling intimidated, confused, embarrassed and quite fearful of both this driver and the authorities in place to protect a person in my situation.”

I don’t know how Moe the Motorist felt, but I can guess.


Why did police charge Cyril for allegedly spitting on Moe, when Moe admitted to punching Cyril?

Basically, they chose to believe Moe’s version and believe he acted in self-defence. More specifically, they offered four reasons in their report:

Cyril confronted Moe; Cyril initiated a verbal argument with Moe; Cyril spat on Moe, causing Moe to defend himself; Moe immediately drove away, removing himself from the situation.

Jay Prober, the lawyer Cyril hired to defend him, argues punching someone in those alleged circumstances is excessive, and a law professor I spoke with agrees. At the very least, in Prober’s opinion, if Cyril was charged, Moe also should have been. Then let a judge decide who’s telling the truth.

But a case like this was never destined to end in court. The Crown diverted it to mediation, where it was resolved late last summer despite the absence of Moe the Motorist, who passed on the opportunity to apologize to Cyril for punching him, the way Moe apologized to police at the time. This week, on the anniversary of the incident that made Cyril fearful to ride his bike this winter, he is out an estimated $2,000 in lawyer’s fees and lost wages.

And he’s still traumatized.

Cyril the Cyclist has learned to better control his feelings about the drivers who show no understanding or respect for bike riders. But sadly, he says he has also learned something else from this cautionary tale.

That his biggest mistake was calling police.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2013 B1