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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Taser case fallout claims more victims

October 29, 2008
Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

The fallout from the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport has claimed two other victims, a motorcyclist who was killed in Delta on Saturday night and the off-duty RCMP officer whose vehicle collided with him.

Orion Hutchinson, of Tsawwassen, was riding his bike westbound along Sixth Avenue on Saturday night when he was struck at the Gilchrist intersection by an eastbound Jeep. The 21-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.

The officer faces charges for blowing over .08 in a breathalyzer test and impaired driving causing death.

He was released on a promise to appear Jan. 15.

On Tuesday, however, the RCMP revealed the Mountie was also involved in the Oct. 14, 2007 fracas at the airport in which the 40-year-old Polish immigrant was Tasered at least twice and died being subdued by the officers.

Since Dziekanski's death, this Mountie became a member of an integrated team involved in organizing security for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

He now is suspended with pay.

Unlike you or I in a similar situation, though, this alleged drunken killer isn't having his name splashed all over the papers.

The Mounties and Delta Police, who are investigating the weekend fatality, claim the cop hasn't actually been "charged" yet, so they're protecting his privacy until he appears in court.

What a thoughtful thing to do.

I can't believe these two police agencies have the audacity to pull a stunt like this, especially the RCMP. Doesn't the force realize the country has lost faith in it and that transparency, not secrecy is needed to rebuild the trust we once had in this national institution?

Most people I talk to remain absolutely livid about what happened to Dziekanski, and they're astounded the RCMP seems to be thumbing their nose at the public's concerns.

The force has been dithering for more than a year over providing Crown counsel with enough relevant information to make a decision about whether or not to charge the four Mounties involved in Dziekanski's death. As a result, his family has been denied closure and the public denied important answers to pressing questions about what happened at YVR and why.

At the same time, the four officers involved have had a horrible cloud over their heads and their careers, and the force has done them no favour by procrastinating.

And it doesn't take a shrink to realize that maybe the stress of being involved in a death that became a global controversy and having a criminal charge hanging over you for a year -- a veritable sword of Damocles -- well, it might drive you to drink or to make other self-destructive judgments.

As in the Dziekanski incident, the officer involved in Saturday night's fatal accident must be given the benefit of being considered innocent.

But what does it look like to you?

The optics never have been good in this case and now they are hellish.

Those who have failed to act expeditiously on the investigation and charge decision in the Dziekanski incident should today take a good look in the mirror.

They not only have the frustration and loss of Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, on their hands, but there's a strong suggestion their foot-dragging may have contributed to the unravelling of a colleague's life, and thus to Saturday night's crash.

RCMP Sgt. Tim Shields, the latest spin doctor to front for the force, told reporters: "This is the most unimaginable heartbreak ever and we are sick about it."

He and his colleagues should be.

Unfortunately that won't bring back Dziekanski or Hutchinson, or ease the pain this police officer and these families must be feeling today.

It's time to make a decision on whether charges are going to be laid over Dziekanski's death, to address the concerns of the public and to start healing this suppurating sore.

Our failure to do so augurs only more heartache and loss.

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