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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Aftermath of Dziekanski tragedy has touched raw nerve in public

November 20, 2007
Alan Ferguson , The Province

It's a long time since I've known so many people so genuinely angry as they are over the death of Robert Dziekanski. I'm talking about people who aren't normally in the habit of whipping themselves into a fever pitch over a perceived injustice. This goes deeper. It touches a raw nerve in the collective consciousness. And it has left many folks wondering about the people they appoint to act on their behalf.

The feeling goes beyond mere emotion. Sure, plenty of tears have been shed. Understandably so. The Polish immigrant's very public death at Vancouver airport can't be watched without gut-wrenching pain. And even though Paul Pritchard's amateur video is only part of the story, it hasn't stopped some people from deciding who are the villains.

What we're hearing about now -- police cruisers pelted with eggs, officers afraid for their safety -- does us no credit. But the rare, deep-seated anger is aimed, not at particular individuals, but at a sequence of events ordinary people find incomprehensible.

They're not interested in a witchhunt based on hysterical assumptions about trigger-happy cops. They'll wait for the facts, provided they are not too long coming. But what they do want is to be told that the fatal flaws in the "system" that failed Dziekanski are being dealt with in an immediate, meaningful way. And, quite frankly, they're seeing precious little evidence of that.

As the weeks roll by, what they're mostly witnessing is a mind-boggling lack of initiative. It's worse. People in positions of power scurry into hiding, seeking either to divert attention from themselves, or else to clam up, further feeding public unease.

Police pile one investigation on top of another, as if adding manpower alone will confirm their good intentions. Someone should tell them no one is fooled any more by the charade of police investigating police.

But the real problem -- what's at the root of the growing anguish in the community -- is the absence of authoritative leadership. A prime example is Stockwell Day, federal minister of public safety. Hasn't it dawned on him that the Dziekanski affair is a humiliating embarrassment for Canada? Yet all he's done is waffle on about Tasers. Liberal Leader Stephane Dion hadn't even bothered to watch the video the rest of the world is talking about.

Hundreds of people were involved in this tragedy in one way or another -- RCMP, customs agents, immigration officials, security guards and others. They should be made to stand up and be counted. Instead, we're watching them duck for cover.

It's the continuing official indifference to the damaging global consequences of those fatal hours at Vancouver airport that Canadians everywhere find so profoundly disturbing. And it's why they're angry at the shuffling hesitancy to explain them.

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