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Monday, December 15, 2008

Police stoop low to deflect blame in Dziekanski case

December 15, 2008
Gary Mason, Globe and Mail

That the Crown wouldn't charge the RCMP officers involved in last year's airport death of Robert Dziekanski was inevitable.

That the Mounties would stoop so low in attempting to explain how and why Mr. Dziekanski met his demise, well, I don't think anyone quite imagined that.

He didn't die because he was tasered five times by three RCMP officers in October of 2007 in an arrivals area at Vancouver International Airport.

He died, we've been told, because he drank too much and had a fear of flying. And when you mix those two things with 50,000 volts of electricity, terrible things happen.

Related Articles

Airport death not caused by tasers, B.C. says
Take away the booze and the anxiety, and Mr. Dziekanski might still be alive.


And the Crown and the RCMP in British Columbia wonder why Canadians are so outraged by Friday's decision. Every day, more and more feel it isn't right for police to investigate themselves, as was the case here.

Just imagine if Joe Canadian were tasered in, oh, I don't know, let's say the Bangkok airport.

And Joe Canadian died.

Imagine that the Thai police took nine months to complete their investigation, an investigation that included a trip to Canada to look into Joe's past.

And in the end, they decided not to prosecute the police officers involved.

Their report says Joe died because he drank too much and suffered from a flying phobia, which combined to weaken his system and made him vulnerable when he was blasted with 50,000 volts of electricity.

Imagine how Canadians would react to a report like that.

People would be screaming cover-up.

They'd be demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper level economic sanctions against Thailand. Canadians would be cancelling trips there.

Well, those were pretty much the circumstances here.

Look, whether Mr. Dziekanski drank a lot or not is irrelevant.

He died after he was tasered by police. If he hadn't been tasered, he wouldn't have died. The only question is: Did the tasering constitute an excessive use of force?

Because the guidelines around the use of a taser were so fuzzy at the time of the incident and so open to interpretation as to what constitutes a threat to a police officer, it was always going to be next to impossible to put together a case against the RCMP officers involved.

Whether most Canadians felt four burly Mounties should have been able to take down one Polish immigrant with a stapler in his hand without having to pump taser hooks into him is irrelevant.

On the use-of-force spectrum that Mounties are guided by, or were at the time, Mr. Dziekanski fit the profile of someone who was a candidate to be tasered. He was agitated. He had been destroying equipment at the airport. He had what could be termed to be a weapon.

Mounties have tasered people for less.

Now, you could argue - others have and more will still - that there need to be stricter guidelines covering the weapon's use.

But at the time, the RCMP officers at Vancouver International weren't doing anything their colleagues hadn't done hundreds of times under similar circumstances.

The RCMP didn't need to go dredging up dirt on Mr. Dziekanski's past to justify its actions.

How horrible and petty-minded that makes our police look. How desperate, too. And the RCMP wonder why their reputation becomes more tattered and stained with each passing day.

The death of Mr. Dziekanski will always be a black mark on the Mounties' reputation in B.C.

But the lengths to which the force went to try to escape blame in the tragedy should be enough to convince everyone that the RCMP should no longer be investigating itself.

The Dziekanski case should be the last deplorable example of why a change needs to take place now.

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