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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Polish prosecutors may visit B.C. for taser probe

January 24, 2008
IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- Polish prosecutors investigating the possibility Robert Dziekanski died due to an "abnormal intervention" by the RCMP may come to British Columbia as part of their probe, a Polish spokesman says.

Mr. Dziekanski, a 40-year-old immigrant from Poland, died last October after being tasered by Mounties during a confrontation at Vancouver airport - a situation that prompted an ongoing debate about the use of tasers by police forces across Canada.

Michal Szulczynski, press spokesman for the district public prosecutors' office in the city of Gliwice, Poland, raised the possibility of a B.C. visit for prosecutors in a statement sent to The Globe and Mail in response to a series of e-mailed questions.

Prosecutors began their work in late November, looking into the possibility that an "abnormal intervention" by Canadian police "unintentionally" caused the death of Mr. Dziekanski, he writes. Such an offence is a violation of the Polish penal code, he writes. However, he was not clear on whether Polish prosecutors are intent on actually laying charges against the Mounties involved in the case. He writes that the penal code says that Polish criminal law applies to foreigners acting abroad who have committed a prohibited act against the best interests of a Polish citizen.

Mr. Dziekanski, 40, was living in Gliwice before his ill-fated trip - his first-ever airplane flight - to Vancouver last October. He died on Oct. 14 after he began acting erratically following a long wait in the international arrivals area of the airport.

Mr. Szulczynski referred to a 1994 treaty between Canada and Poland on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. "The agreement also provides the possibility of the Polish public prosecutors taking part in the proceedings occurring in Canada ... providing that it is not against the local legal system," he wrote in Polish, translated for The Globe. "Therefore a possibility of the Polish public prosecutor coming to Canada is not excluded."

The actual text of the treaty says the parties commit to "grant each other the widest measure of mutual legal assistance in criminal matters." Legal assistance is defined, among other things, as the location of relevant persons and objects, documents, records and the "voluntary appearance of persons" requested by a party to the deal.

The Polish investigation is taking place according to that country's regulations on penal proceedings and is independent from proceedings conducted in Canada, Mr. Szulczynski writes.

A spokeswoman for federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the minister is aware of the Polish investigation, but that it would not be appropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation "either in Canada or abroad." A spokesman for Foreign Affairs said they have not been contacted by Polish officials seeking information in the case.

During a recent trip to Poland, Zofia Cisowski, the mother of Mr. Dziekanski - her only child - was twice interviewed by prosecutors. Her Vancouver-based lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj, said yesterday Ms. Cisowski told him the prosecutors also wanted to have a chat with him at some point.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, which investigates cases outside Vancouver, is looking into the Dziekanski case, gathering evidence that will determine if charges will be laid and also provide material for a coroner's inquest. The Canadian officers are expected to travel to Poland as part of that investigation, seeking information on Mr. Dziekanski's past.

A provincial inquiry into the police use of tasers and the death of Mr. Dziekanski is also in the works, but the inquiry chair has not been named nor the terms of reference released.

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