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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dziekanski: Part of the tragedy is learning just how preventable it was

January 24, 2009
GARY MASON, The Globe and Mail

Zofia Cisowski must have known that what she would hear at this week's inquiry into her son Robert Dziekanski's death would send her sinking to her knees in grief. But the testimony has doubtlessly left her as angry as she is heartbroken and sorrowful.

Thomas Braidwood promised when he opened the second phase of his inquiry into the taser-related death of Mr. Dziekanski to provide a complete reckoning of events leading up to the 40-year-old Polish immigrant's fatal encounter with police at 1:20 a.m. on Oct, 14, 2007, at Vancouver International Airport.

So far, that accounting has mostly revealed just how preventable the tragedy was. If only one person had done a little more, taken that extra step, not treated Mr. Dziekanski as just another one of the nameless, faceless, weary-looking travellers who walk our airports every day.

If only ... he'd be alive today.

As horrible as many of the revelations have made me feel for Ms. Cisowski, I found a small part of me feeling sorry for those who didn't do more, who, for whatever reason, didn't pick up a phone, didn't alert someone to the fact a passenger may have needed help.

Most of us like to think we'd never do that, never let tiredness or routine or the ennui that can set in on the job get in the way of doing the right thing. But the pages of our collective history suggest otherwise. There are lots of examples of people walking away from those who needed help, who stayed in bed upon hearing the screams of someone in a nearby park instead of getting up and phoning the police.

Psychologists have a term for this - dilution of responsibility. The more of us there are around, the less we feel responsible to help. Someone else will take care of the problem.

Judging by the testimony at the Braidwood inquiry, a little of that was going on at Vancouver International the night Mr. Dziekanski arrived on a flight from Frankfurt, tired, sweaty, seemingly a little lost.

Customs agent Monica Kullar processed Mr. Dziekanski at 4 p.m. on Oct. 13. She recalled Mr. Dziekanski appearing a little agitated before she directed him to a secondary screening area.

When she was getting off shift around 1 a.m., she noticed he was still in the customs area.

Did she stop to ask anyone why he was still there nine hours after processing him? No, she admitted. She went home.

Tina Zadravec was another customs agent working that night. She remembered receiving a call from a man who had accompanied Ms. Cisowski to the airport.

Rick Hutchinson told her that Ms. Cisowski had mistakenly informed her son she would meet him at the baggage area, not knowing that wasn't allowed in the international arrivals area.

Given that Mr. Dziekanski didn't speak English, this mix-up might account for why he hadn't surfaced in the public arrivals area hours after he should have, Mr. Hutchinson said.

Ms. Zadravec told the inquiry she did a quick scan of the customs area and did not see anyone looking lost or matching the description of Mr. Dziekanski. She advised Mr. Hutchinson that he and Ms. Cisowski go home.

She didn't phone anyone. Didn't page anyone. No translators were called. She peered out into an area where there could have been any number of other travellers and that was it.

Sadly, I believe what she and Ms. Kullar did that night is what many of us would have done: left it for someone else to deal with.

And now those two women and probably a dozen others working at the airport that night who could have done something to help Robert Dziekanski but didn't are going to have to live with their decisions for the rest of their lives.

Throughout most of the testimony, Zofia Cisowski sat quietly, no doubt incredulous at what she was hearing. She cried, especially watching surveillance tapes that captured the last movements of her son.

Her anger erupted only once, when a lawyer for the RCMP focused on a statement that Ms. Zadravec had given police in December, 2007. At the time she said Mr. Dziekanski had appeared drunk. "Liar," Zofia yelled out. "Liar."

It was long ago proven Mr. Dziekanski was not drunk.

Next week, there will be more to come.

"As a parent, I imagine there is nothing more terrible than losing a son or daughter," Mr. Braidwood, a former judge, told Ms. Cisowski on Monday as he opened this second phase of the inquiry.

Maybe the only thing worse is discovering how easily it could have been prevented.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When this inquiry is concluded, Zofia Cisowski will be left feeling as the rest of the mothers and family members after having lost their loved ones who died after being brutaly tasered. She will feel that justice has not been served, that her beloved son died for nothing and no one will be held responsible. When these RCMP officers were not found responsible, even after the world witnessed their brutal attack on this poor soul, it was another slap in the face to those of us continuing to search for justice. At the very most, Zofia may receive an apology from the powers that be...and that would be so much more than the rest of us received or expect. For all of us, it has been a journey to hell and back...but we will continue.... against all odds. Riki Bagnell