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Monday, January 26, 2009

Customs officers went 'above and beyond' with Dziekanski, Taser inquiry hears

January 26, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The customs officers who dealt with Robert Dziekanski the day he was stunned with an RCMP Taser at Vancouver's airport went "above and beyond" their duties, their supervisor said Monday at a public inquiry into the man's death.

Dziekanski died in the early morning of Oct. 14, 2007, more than 10 hours after his flight from Poland touched down.

The Canadian Border Services Agency has faced criticism because officers didn't call a translator for Dziekanski, who didn't speak English, to find out why he had spent hours unnoticed in a secure customs area.

The inquiry has also heard that at one point an officer told a friend of Dziekanski's mother that he likely wasn't at the airport, which prompted her to return home to Kamloops, B.C. without meeting him. Officers didn't immediately try to contact her once her son finally surfaced.

Still, Alexandra Currie, an acting immigration supervisor who was working that night, said officers took extra care helping Dziekanski find his bags and make his way through the various stages of processing. She said they eventually tried to locate his mother, Zofia Cisowski, searching a public waiting area, paging her and trying to call her.

One of the officers was even able to communicate with Dziekanski in Polish, said Currie, although the extent of that communication was unclear.

"They went above and beyond what we normally do," Currie told the inquiry.

"A lot of the actions that took place - looking for the family, going outside the customs hall, making pages, giving him water, retrieving his luggage, all of that - that's not in our job description, and I was very proud of the officers that evening."

Currie first encountered Dziekanski after 10:30 p.m., when two officers brought him to her office over concerns that he had been in the airport so long.

Dziekanski's flight landed roughly seven hours earlier and after he first entered the customs area, he spent more than five hours unnoticed before finally approaching immigration officers.

Currie said she asked Dziekanski in English where he had been, and then used hand gestures, pointing to her watch and then placing her head on her hands to mimic sleeping.

Dziekanski nodded his head yes, said Currie.

Crown prosecutors in B.C. have previously said they believed Dziekanski may have been sitting on a bench or sleeping near the baggage carousels, but it wasn't clear how they may have reached that conclusion. It's still not known where exactly he may have been and why no customs officers noticed him for so long.

While Currie knew Dziekanski didn't speak English, she said it's not standard practice to call a translator and it appeared border officers were able to process him successfully without one.

Currie was also the latest witness to testify that Dziekanski was calm, respectful and obedient when she dealt with him. RCMP have said he was agitated and erratic before he died.

"He was calm, he appeared co-operative, he appeared to respond, made eye contact directly," she said.

Another officer who testified earlier Monday had a similar account, as have other witnesses including flight attendants, airport staff and a passenger on Dziekanski's flight into Vancouver.

But less than an hour after Dziekanski left the customs and immigration screening area, he began throwing furniture in the airport's international arrivals area.

Four RCMP officers were summoned and within seconds of their arrival, Dziekanski was stunned by a Taser five times and died a short time later.

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