If you are a close friend of mine, and you are arrested for drunk driving, and you come to me for my support, I will tell you that I love you. And then I will ask you what happened. And I will try to let you know that I will still love you no matter what happened, and what happens with the charges.
Now, if you ask me to go somewhere in public and show my support for you as you discuss the charges, I will ask what you are going to say. Because I want to know what I am publicly supporting.
If you plan to say that you are not guilty, I will tell you I love you, and I will ask you if that claim is true. And I will ask you to explain your version of the events leading up to your arrest to me, and suggest you explain them publicly. If I believe you, that there has been some mistake, or that you have been framed, I will be proud to stand with you and demand that you have a chance to clear your name in court. “She has nothing to apologize for,” I will say.
If you tell me that you are guilty, but you’re saying you’re not guilty so you can avoid consequences, I will tell you I love you, and I think you are making a mistake, and I cannot stand beside you while you lie.
If I think you are lying to me, I will tell you I love you, but that I do not believe you, and I will not stand with you while I think you are being dishonest. I will also tell you that I hope I am proved wrong, but that if I am not, I hope you will change your mind and be honest with me, and with others.
Now, if you tell me that you are guilty, and you plan to say that you are guilty, and that you plan to accept the consequences and apologize, I will tell you I love you, and I will discuss with you how lucky you were to be arrested rather than being allowed to drive on and potentially kill someone. Because you and I both know people who have been killed because someone decided to drive drunk. And I will stand beside you as you face the music, saying that I am disgusted by what you did but I am proud of your willingness to accept responsibility—that I accept your apology, and will be beside you as you work to make sure you never make that kind of error in judgement again. I will offer to go with you to 12-step meetings. I will tell you to call me if you have been drinking and need a ride.
That’s really the range of options for how it could go down, if you are a friend of mine charged with drunk driving, or with any other crime.
Councillor Ana Bailao was recently charged with drunk driving, as you may be aware. Those she asked to support her appear to think differently about these things than I do.
She had a press conference today, and some of her city council colleagues—Pam McConnell, Frances Nunziata, Paula Fletcher, Mike Layton, Josh Colle, Josh Matlow and Doug Ford—came to stand with her as she talked about the charge to reporters.
Bailao did not admit guilt. “I intend to plead not guilty,” she said. And added, “I want to be absolutely clear. These charges will in no way affect my ability to do the job I was elected to do,” as if that had anything at all to do with anything. When questioned, she refused to support her denial of guilt with any details. She would not say how many drinks, if any, she’d consumed before driving. She would not say where she had been between the time she left a gala fundraising dinner at 9:30pm and the time she was pulled over at 1:47am.
If Bailao had been any more candid with her council colleagues, they gave no indication. Very troublingly, those who spoke first did not make their supportive stand on the basis of her proclaimed innocence. Instead, they seemed to suggest that getting behind the wheel tipsy was a kind of silly gaffe or an occupational hazard.
“I think when you look around the room here, we’ve all had a bad night. She regrets it. She apologizes. I think it’s time to move on now,” said Councillor Doug Ford–although she had not expressed that she had a bad night, had not expressed regret, had not apologized. At least not in public, where she had seemed to deny there was anything to regret or apologize for.
“I think this is a wake-up call for any elected officials who really are out in a lot of places expected to have a great time,” said Councillor Paula Fletcher, as if Bailao had in any way hinted that there was something to learn from her experience, or that she had been arrested somehow as a result of the peer pressure to drink at functions. (Bailao had not. She had claimed she was not guilty.) Fletcher’s comments, actually, have a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God quality to them—it could have happened to any of us! We poor elected officials, to whom the public entrusts the city, forced to be out partying and, in the absence of a “wake-up call,” facing peer pressure to violate the criminal code and risk committing vehicular homicide.
“I was honoured,” Councillor Pam McConnell said about being asked to stand beside Bailao at this moment. “I think when (regular) people are charged from the public there aren’t 800 cameras and microphones in their face.” No, there are not. And there are not, when regular people are charged, typically elected officials and longtime trusted former members of the Police Services Board, as McConnell is, standing beside them to lend support to their claims, either.
Josh Colle, at least, hinted that he was there in part because he thought her claims to innocence deserved a hearing. “She’s going through a tough time. I don’t know the details and I assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
And unlike some of his council colleagues, at least Josh Matlow didn’t minimize the alleged offence. “Ana is a friend. I was there to support a friend of mine, not the actions that she’s been accused of.”
I’m glad one of those in attendance had the good sense to make clear they did not intend to support drunk driving.
Bailao claims she’s not guilty. She’s entitled to do so, and we should reserve judgement until the details come out and judgment is rendered by a court. If she is not guilty, Fletcher and Ford, at the very least, owe her an apology for suggesting she’s anything other than wronged. But no matter what the verdict, they and some of their colleagues owe us an apology for the sorry display they put on today. Because the whole event seemed to simultaneously say that Bailao should be trusted when she says she didn’t do it, and that even if she did it’s no biggie. I understand that drunk driving is very common. I know a lot of people who’ve done it, some of whom were caught, some of whom were not. But its regularity doesn’t make it trivial, it makes it dangerous. I have known people—more than one—who’ve died because of drunk drivers. I bet you do too. Virtually everyone does. As long as we and our leaders continue to treat allegations of drunk driving against our friends as if they’re something to shrug off as a mildly regrettable thing everyone’s done on a bad night, then our friends will keep driving after they’ve been drinking. And then drivers who’ve been drinking will keep killing a lot more of our friends.
PHOTO: ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE/TORONTO STAR