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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ottawa turns down B.C. request to participate in taser inquiry

February 19, 2008
JUSTINE HUNTER, Globe and Mail

VICTORIA -- The provincial government has ordered two inquiries into the taser death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, but B.C.'s Attorney-General admitted yesterday the process could have limited effect.

The federal government has rebuffed a request to participate in the inquiries, one into circumstances of Mr. Dziekanski's death and the second into the use of conducted-energy weapons, also known as tasers, by police.

As well, B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal conceded that there's no clear authority for the province to compel the RCMP, which provides about 70 per cent of British Columbia's policing services, to comply with any rulings. "The RCMP, being a federal force, is beyond the jurisdiction of the province, but we expect the RCMP to fully co-operate in the inquiry," he told reporters in Victoria. "We have invited the federal government to participate in the inquiry," he added. "They are doing an inquiry of their own and, at this stage, they have declined to participate in the [B.C.] inquiry."

Mr. Dziekanski died within minutes of being tasered at Vancouver International Airport last October, after spending hours waiting in a restricted area for his mother, Zofia Cisowski, who waited several hours just outside in the public area.

The two never found each other. Four officers, responding to a report of a man with erratic behaviour destroying property, entered the arrivals area on the morning of Oct. 14, and tasered Mr. Dziekanski less than 30 seconds later.

A digital video of the encounter flashed around the world in November, with the disturbing 10 minutes of footage showing Mr. Dziekanski screaming and writhing before being pinned down and handcuffed, and then lapsing into unconsciousness.

Mr. Oppal first promised an inquiry late last year, saying his government was forced to call a public inquiry after it became clear various authorities, including the Vancouver airport, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency, were not providing useful answers about what went wrong.

Yesterday, he issued the terms of reference and said he wants answers by the summer. "We want a full and comprehensive opinion as to what our police should be doing in this province." RCMP Staff Sergeant John Ward, head of the RCMP's media division in the province, said the force, including the four officers involved in the incident, will co-operate with the inquiries. "The RCMP will fully participate within all legal boundaries of the inquiry and we have everything to gain by doing so," he said in an interview yesterday.

If the result goes against the use of tasers, he said the force would likely comply, but he could not guarantee it.

"If the [B.C.] Solicitor-General came out with a policy that the RCMP couldn't use a certain piece of equipment, we would probably follow that direction," he said.

Both provincial probes will be conducted as public inquiries headed by retired Appeal Court judge Thomas Braidwood. While he can begin his commission into the use of tasers immediately, the inquiry into what happened on Oct. 14 at Vancouver airport could be delayed. A coroner's inquest is set for May 5 to May 16 and there is also a homicide investigation that could hinder a public hearing.


rmk2002 said...

It will be interesting to watch the dance of avoidance coming up in these hearings. There will be no one responsible for Robert Dziekanski's death and there will be no significant changes to prevent future deaths. The police are too hooked on tasers and have lost the ability to police without them and there is too much money involved to stop using them. I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it.

E. John Love said...

A well written, historical overview of the Taser debate and significantly relevant events and media reaction is posted here: