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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mom asked for help at airport but received none, B.C. Taser inquiry hears

It pains me to put this here, as a Canadian.

January 21, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Robert Dziekanski's mother and her friend pleaded with airport staff and at least one immigration officer for help to find the man but were told he likely wasn't in the airport, a public inquiry into his death heard Wednesday.

Zofia Cisowski and her neighbour Rick Hutchinson waited for much of the day before finally leaving Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 13, 2007, hours before Dziekanski was stunned by an RCMP Taser and later died.

The would-be Polish immigrant had been at the airport all along, wandering around for hours before he was confronted by police officers.

Hutchinson told the inquiry that he and Cisowski spoke with airport staff more than half a dozen times, telling them they were waiting for a man who didn't speak English and asking if there was any way to find him.

But Hutchinson said that in the eight hours they spent at the airport, several people told them they couldn't provide any information about Dziekanski.

An immigration officer even said that after so long, there was little chance Dziekanski would still be at the airport, he said.

"Disregarded, not important - that's the attitude I was getting from the people at the airport," said Hutchinson, who lives in the same building as Cisowski in Kamloops, B.C.

"I didn't feel that they were interested in communicating with me."

Hutchinson said that when he and Cisowski first arrived, he went to an information booth and asked where to meet international passengers.

He and Cisowski were directed to the international arrivals area, where they waited with no sign of Dziekanski. They each returned to the information booth several times but were told to keep waiting, Hutchinson said.

Frustrated after five hours of dealing with staff that they felt weren't helping, Hutchinson said they went to another booth but were told the same thing.

Staff at that booth eventually tried to page Dziekanski, who was in a secure customs screening area at the time, but Hutchinson didn't know whether the message was broadcast into that area.

Finally, after roughly seven hours in the airport, Hutchinson went to an immigration office and used a telephone to speak with a border officer.

The woman on the phone told him that providing any information about Dziekanski would violate privacy laws and that he likely wasn't there anyway.

"She basically informed me that I had been waiting too long, that there's no possible way that that would take that long for anyone to get through there," Hutchinson said.

"'I can (tell) you in all certainty that there's no landed immigrant from Poland here in this place, so you might as well go home,"' he quoted the woman as saying.

After his testimony, Hutchinson told reporters he did everything he could to help Cisowski find her son.

"When that lady from immigration said you might as well go home because he's not there, that's what I bought," he said.

"I thought they could have done something to get us in touch with that fellow."

The inquiry will hear from some of the staff and the immigration officer with whom Hutchinson and Cisowski spoke.

Dwight Stewart, a lawyer for the Vancouver Airport Authority, gave Hutchinson other examples of staff being helpful, including suggesting he speak with the airline or head to the immigration office.

Jan Brongers, a federal government lawyer, suggested the immigration officer put down the phone to look in the customs area for Dziekanski, although Hutchinson said he couldn't recall that happening.

He also noted that an immigration officer left a voice mail for Cisowski in Kamloops. But by the time she returned home Dziekanski already had his fatal confrontation with police.

The airport and the Canada Border Services Agency have been criticized for not finding a translator for Dziekanski to find out why he was in the airport for so long or, when he eventually became agitated and started throwing furniture, to learn why he was in distress.

It's also not clear how the immigration officer was able to conclude Dziekanski wasn't in the airport, even though he had already passed through his initial screening but hadn't yet gone through customs and immigration screening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a Canadian it pains me to read this. Where is our compassion? I hope all the people involved are held accountable in this travesty.
I am still sick over this incident and only hope there will be some justice for Robert.