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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Inquest set for May in Dziekanski death

November 21, 2007
Vancouver Sun

RICHMOND - An inquest into the death of Robert Dziekanski while in RCMP custody last month will be held next May. The inquest, scheduled for May 5 to May 16, will be presided over by coroner Owen Court. The five-person jury will publicly hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses in order to determine the facts surrounding the death. The jury will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances in the future.

My family has recently been through the ordeal of a British Columbia coroner's inquest and the process is deeply flawed. More than two years passed after Bob's death before the inquest finally began in September 2006, only after the police finished investigating themselves. The Vancouver Police and the Coroner’s Service had publicly-funded legal representation. We, the family, received no legal funding of any kind. The inquest would have been over before it began had we not been represented by a lawyer.

Taser International was granted standing at the inquest and was represented by two lawyers from a large Canadian law firm. Throughout the proceedings, our lawyer - Cameron Ward - made every honest attempt to bring the jury close to the truth of what happened the night Bob died and what role the taser might have played in his death. Frequent objections from lawyers for the police and Taser International caused much of what we wanted to present to the jury to be suppressed.

They were not, for example, allowed to hear about a September 2005 letter from Victoria Chief of Police Paul Battershill (who was in charge of the investigation into Bob's death) wherein he cited personal philosophic concerns about whether police “by themselves” should be defining where the taser belongs in the Use of Force Continuum. He said that as the various studies rapidly evolve, it may be necessary to change placement in the continuum and he said he was not convinced that this could be properly done by police “by themselves” and that it required significant debate within a wider arena.

Our attempt to have that letter entered as an exhibit so that the jury could have the benefit of seeing it ended with the inquest being abruptly and very unexpectedly adjourned on the second-last day. Everyone was dismissed, no questions asked. When EIGHT MONTHS LATER the inquest reconvened, the letter was deemed not to be relevant.

We were frustrated that so much of what we tried to introduce to the jury was suppressed by objections from lawyers for the police and Taser International. At the end of the inquest, the coroner asked us to provide him with *our* recommendations to prevent future loss of life. And then completely ignored those recommendations in his final summation to the jury. In the end, the jury was unable to agree on any recommendations that might prevent similar loss of life. We believe the outcome would have been quite different - and Mr. Dziekanski might still be alive today - had the jury been provided with everything they needed to make informed recommendations.

The inquest seemed to be more about "saving the taser" and the reputation of a police department than getting at the truth of what really happened the night Bob died.

We had other serious concerns with the coroner's inquest that I won't go into here. Suffice it to say that, in its current form, the coroner's inquest in British Columbia is a most unsatisfactory ordeal - and one that is biased in favour of the police and not worthy of the public's confidence.

Two people have died after being tasered in Canada since the inquest into my brother's death ended. Four people have died after being tasered in Canada since Chief Battershill’s letter was written.

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