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Friday, February 22, 2008

Taser probe won't focus on police oversight, Oppal says

February 22, 2008
IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- The head of a public inquiry into the death of a Polish immigrant at Vancouver International Airport is free to look at the issue of police investigating themselves, but the issue won't be an official part of his efforts, B.C.'s Attorney-General says.

"We want this to be more focused on what happened that night," Wally Oppal said yesterday, referring to the morning of Oct. 14, 2007, when Robert Dziekanski, acting erratically in the international arrivals area, was subjected to two taser blasts by the RCMP. He died at the scene.

"I expect we will hear about whether or not police were following their own procedures and things like that, and I think that's the reason for the inquiry. We want to find out what happened and how can we prevent that type of tragedy from happening again," Mr. Oppal said.

Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal judge who will head the inquiry, "has a wide discretion," Mr. Oppal said. "He might well want to touch on some of that. He added that he did not think the subject of police investigating themselves "is really an issue here. What we want to know is what happened to poor Mr. Dziekanski." He noted his ministry is reviewing a report unrelated to the Dziekanski matter that addresses police oversight, and he plans to propose reforms in the current legislative session.

The inquiry will unfold in two phases. One will look at the overall use of tasers by B.C. police. The second will look at the circumstances of Mr. Dziekanski's death.

The news that police investigating themselves won't be a focus of the inquiry came as a disappointment to the lawyer for Zofia Cisowski, Mr. Dziekanski's mother. Walter Kosteckyj said yesterday the issue should be on the table. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team has been conducting an ongoing investigation into the case that could lead to charges against the officers involved. Mr. Kosteckyj said there is a conflict in having the team - with Mounties among its members - investigate a case involving the conduct of police.

"Does that make sense?" he asked rhetorically. "My client wants to make sure, by the time the inquiry is done, everything is looked into, including police conduct ..."

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