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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Intense interest in memorial service for Robert Dziekanski - many plan on being at Nov. 17 taser victim’s funeral

November 11, 2007
By Dale Bass, Kamloops This Week

There’s a concerted effort being made to have relatives of people who have been tasered attend the November 17 celebration of the life of Robert Dziekanski. Patti Gillman and her mother, Riki Bagnell, have sent e-mails to people who, like them, have had family members tasered. Gillman said they’re spreading the word in case any others want to join them at the ceremony, where one of them will speak.

Her brother, Robert Bagnell, died in police custody after being tasered four years ago. Cameron Ward, the lawyer who represented the family at the inquest and who has spoken out frequently about the tasers, will also attend.

Gillman said they hope their participation doesn’t turn the event into a media circus. She noted it’s difficult to continue advocating for police to stop using the taser without the media’s help, “but we are coming there [from Ontario] to show our support for the family. “But I think there’s a change in attitude happening now across the country, and I want to keep the momentum going . . . We want to show our solidarity with Zofia and further focus on the lethality of this so-called non-lethal weapon.”

Jurek Baltakis, who has been helping Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, arrange the ceremony, said the event is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Kamloops Funeral Home.

Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14 after he was tasered by RCMP. The Polish construction worker was agitated after spending several hours in the immigration area, waiting for his mother. Cisowski was outside the secure area, trying to find someone to help her find her son. After hours of seeking help, she was told to go home because her only child, who was moving to Kamloops to start a new life, was not at the airport.

Since the incident, several investigations have begun, including a coroner’s inquest, an RCMP review of the actions taken by its members and a review by the integrated homicide investigation team. Added to that last week is a review initiated by Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC).

Nelson Kalil, CPC manager of communications, said Kennedy has the power to initiate his own complaint. He most recently started one into the death of Ian Bush while in police custody in Houston. The commission is separate from the RCMP and reports directly to Parliament. Kalil said the “overarching issue” is Kennedy’s concern that none of the other investigations are compromised.

The chairman has spoken out often about RCMP accountability and a need for enhanced oversight of the federal policing force. He has recommended new legislation that would create a civilian review body of police activities that would be transparent and accountable. While the commission can’t order legislative changes, its direct reporting to the government carries great weight, Kalil said. “If we tell them of an interest of great concern to us, we would hope they would listen.”

Kalil said the legislation envisions a body similar to the special investigations unit in Ontario, a civilian agency that investigates police actions that involve death or serious injury. Dziekanski’s death has sparked intense public concern, Kalil said, and is expected to continue this week if his mother allows the release of a videotape of her son’s last minutes of life.

The tape was the centre of a legal battle between Victoria resident Paul Pritchard, who recorded it and lent it to the RCMP to view, and the police, who told him they would not return it. They later changed their minds and gave the tape to Pritchard, who has ensured that Cisowski watches it first. On Friday, citing her emotional state, her lawyer ordered a media blackout until a press conference is held in Vancouver on Tuesday (this has been postponed to Wednesday). It is expected at that time she will release the tape to the public.

Meanwhile, fundraising continues to help Cisowski take her son’s ashes to Poland for burial. She has no savings, having worked two jobs for seven years to pay for her son’s move to Canada. An account has been established at the downtown Kamloops branch of Valley First Credit Union. To date, about $5,000 has been donated.

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