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Monday, November 26, 2007

Taser incident to prompt sweeping changes at Canada Border Services

November 26, 2007
Ian Austin , CanWest News Service

VANCOUVER - The Canadian Border Services Agency promised sweeping changes to its treatment of international arrivals Monday as it released its internal report into the Taser incident that ended with the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

The CBSA promised more cameras, improved interpreter services and the option of more patrols and security checks within the CBSA secure area at Vancouver International Airport, where Dziekanski wandered disoriented for up to nine hours before his death on Oct. 14.

The CBSA said it will ensure that people referred for further examinations will report to the secondary examination area within a "reasonable amount of time," and said it would review "services provided for international travellers and those waiting to meet them."

Dziekanski and his mother were separated for hours by a matter of metres, as Dziekanski was on one side of the international arrivals area and his mother waited on the other side.

"I assure you that the CBSA is committed to implementing these recommendations without delay here at Vancouver International Airport and at other international airports as appropriate, to further secure and safely facilitate travellers' entry," said Alain Jolicoeur, president of the CBSA.

The damning report shows that the CBSA lost track of Dziekanski for more than six hours. Dziekanski arrived at 3:20 p.m. on Oct. 13 and was processed through primary inspection at 4:09 p.m.

According to a timeline issued by CBSA, Dziekanski wasn't again identified until 10:40 p.m., when he tried to exit the CBSA hall.

"At that point, a CBSA officer advised him he needed to go to secondary, and directed him toward that area," the report says. "Mr. Dziekanski spoke little or no English and a Polish interpreter was not readily available."

The report also says 4,000 people went through the area during the time Dziekanski was unaccounted for.

Jolicoeur sent his condolences to Dziekanski's family. "I would like to extend our sincere and deepest sympathies to the family of Mr. Dziekanski," said Jolicoeur. "Our thoughts are with Mr. Dziekanski's family and friends at this difficult time."

Dziekanski, who spoke no English, wandered the halls of the airport for nine hours - principally in the customs area under the jurisdiction of the CBSA - before becoming upset and disoriented.

As documented in a video now seen by millions around the world, four police officers approached Dziekanski, Tasered him and subdued him before his heart stopped in the early morning hours of Oct. 14.

The video, filmed by fellow traveller Paul Pritchard, unleashed an international firestorm and launched more than half a dozen investigations.

The CBSA has come under fire for failing to provide translation services for Dziekanski - who had never been to Canada before and spoke no English - and for apparently being unaware of the fact he had wandered the secure area for hours without anyone seeking him out or attempting to help him.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day asked the agency to explain how Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish, got through customs, and why he was left alone in a secure area for so long.

While the RCMP has been criticized for its reaction to Dziekanski - who the video showed had thrown a computer and a table, but never confronted anyone and at one point walked away with his arms raised - many feel the situation should never have escalated to that point.

The CBSA apparently did nothing to quell his fears and security simply called police. Within seconds of approaching Dziekanski they Tasered him.

The CBSA report was unveiled two days after another man died following the police use of a Taser. Robert Knipstrom was the fourth Canadian fatality in six weeks following police use of the weapon.

The Chilliwack, B.C., man died in hospital five days after a violent encounter with police involving a Taser, a baton and pepper spray. An autopsy tentatively scheduled for Monday was to probe whether Knipstrom was on drugs at the time of the incident or if the Taser made contact with him.

As well, Quilem Registre, 39, died on Oct. 18, four days after being shocked by Taser in Montreal. He had been stopped by police on suspicion of drunk driving on October 14.

And last Thursday, a third man - Howard Hyde, 45 - died following a scuffle with corrections officers at a Dartmouth, N.S., prison. The incident came 30 hours after officers used a Taser to subdue him at police headquarters during a "violent" struggle.

On Monday, a review of Hyde's death found that staff at the jail had followed proper procedures. Hyde suffered from schizophrenia. His family says he was not taking his medication at the time of his death. Prison staff were not informed of Hyde's mental illness, said Fred Honsberger, director of correctional services. That was strictly a health-care issue, he said. "Whether a person is schizophrenic, on meds or off meds, or if there's some other complication of that nature, it wouldn't affect how (staff) responded that day. They responded according to procedures and training." Hyde will be buried Wednesday.

1 comment:

ACSial said...

Robert Dziekanski was the perfect exemplar of all that's wrong with Canada's immigration system. Here was a guy with a criminal record (armed robbery), who was completely unemployable and hadn't any competence whatsoever in either official language...yet he was allowed into the country as an immigrant. The matter of linguistic competence is inexcusable. My grandfather, a uneducated refugee from Poland, somehow managed to learn both German and English in Nazi and UNRA camps BEFORE coming here. Also, if Dziekanski didn't want to get Tasered, he shouldn't have been acting like a violent jerk. The cops who have to deal with 'exited delerium' perps have a right to safety--Dziekanski could've punched them, or slashed them with an edged weapon. Would YOU like to tackle some big, addled, violent and possibly armed guy as he thrashes about?

Certainly, Taser use has been too free, in certain instances (e.g., the Skytrain), and some of the units have been defective. However, nobody should even set foot in Canada as an 'immigrant', without some fluency in either English or French. Observing basic codes of civility--not throwing chairs, and such--should also be required of ANY Canadian, immigrant or not.