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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

EDITORIAL: Let's get on with unravelling Dziekanski's death

October 29, 2008
The Province

Millions of people worldwide have seen the video of Robert Dziekanski getting Tasered to death by RCMP at YVR on Oct. 17, 2007.

Despite what appeared to be obvious excessive force causing death, the RCMP cautioned Canadians from jumping to conclusions based on one piece of damning evidence.

The following report appeared in The Province on Nov. 18, 2007: --

As mourners shared their grief publicly over the death of Taser victim Robert Dziekanski yesterday, the head of the RCMP issued a lengthy statement defending Canada's national police force.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said he was speaking out to counter what he called "a perception that the RCMP has been silent since the airing of the disturbing video images earlier this week," a perception that has left him "concerned that growing misperceptions are eroding the public's confidence in the RCMP." Elliott said the force wanted to "extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to his family." He acknowledged that "the video images recently made public are disturbing for anyone who sees them," but vigorously defended the RCMP's use of Tasers.

He cautioned the public not to judge by what they saw on the video footage.

"This serious event deserves a comprehensive and complete examination," Elliot said, adding that the officers involved have been assigned to other duties.


Well said, and certainly fair comment given all that was then not known about the incident.

But now, with the second postponement of a public inquiry into this tragic death, Canadians are more than ready to start conclusion-jumping again.

Most people know Dziekanski's story. Following a lengthy flight from Europe, the 40-year-old new immigrant, who spoke no English, was stranded for 10 hours in a secluded area of a YVR terminal.

Four RCMP officers responded to a report of an agitated man. After they arrived on the scene, a brief and heated conversation ensued ending with Dziekanski being Tasered more than once. Shortly afterwards he died.

The province ordered an inquiry into the death and the Braidwood Commission was struck.

Conducted by retired B.C. justice Thomas Braidwood, the inquiry's mandate was to first examine the use of Tasers by police forces in the province, then reconvene on Oct. 20 to specifically examine the events that led to Dziekanski's death.

The October date was postponed to Nov. 20, and then, on Monday, further postponed to Jan. 15, 2009.

The inquiry can't begin until the Crown counsel decides on whether or not to charge all or any of the four RCMP officers involved.

Crown counsel says it is waiting for the complete RCMP report on the incident before making a decision on any charges.

Meanwhile, the RCMP are pointing a finger at a doctor who apparently needs more than a year to issue a medical report.

"The RCMP fully intends to co-operate with the Braidwood Commission," said Mounties spokesman Sgt. Tim Shields. "But we have received advice from Crown counsel that we need to wait until a decision on criminal charges has been made before handing over the file. A criminal trial would be jeopardized if charges were laid. Only one document has not been received from IHIT (Integrated Homicide Investigation Team). It is a doctor's report which will be submitted to Crown counsel as soon as it is submitted. IHIT concluded its investigation many months ago." Art Vertlieb, who is acting for the Braidwood Commission, had this to say about this ongoing black eye for justice: "This is an important case for many people. Dziekanski's family, the airport and the Polish government are all interested. We very much want to get on with this. We want the RCMP to get on with it. We've been very patient. The public deserves to have answers." How important is that line:"The public deserves to have answers." Not excuses. Answers.

Whatever it takes and whoever has to get involved, the inquiry must begin as soon as is legally possible. At every turn, it seems the handling of this incident has been mismanaged.

Canadians deserve to be screaming mad that this inquiry hasn't started. Let's get on with it.

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