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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mother of Taser victim promised 'complete record'

January 20, 2009
Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun

Robert Dziekanski's family will get a complete account of what happened to him, Thomas Braidwood, the inquiry commissioner looking into Dziekanski's death, promised Monday as the second phase of his inquiry began.

"I'd like to speak directly to Mrs. [Zofia] Cisowski. My first mandate is to provide you and your family with a complete record relating to your son's death," said Braidwood, a former justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal.

"As a parent, I imagine there is nothing more terrible than losing a son or daughter, and may I express my profound condolences for your loss," Braidwood said.

"We will make every effort to find what happened that night in an effort to bring you some closure and peace."

Braidwood said he was not authorized to make any findings of civil or criminal liability.

"But I can make a finding of fact based on the evidence. I can find there was misconduct," he said.

Dziekanski died after being Tasered five times by RCMP officers after arriving in Vancouver on a flight from Germany in October 2007.

The police say he was Tasered because he was violent and they needed to subdue him.

The inquiry heard from four witnesses Monday who came into contact with Dziekanski either on a short flight from Poland to Frankfurt, Germany, when he caught a plane to Vancouver, or when he first showed up to clear customs at Vancouver International.

None of the witnesses described the 40-year-old immigrant -- who was coming to Canada to live with his mother in Kamloops -- as showing any tendencies to violence or being drunk or causing a disturbance.

The witnesses described him as quiet and polite. Nor was there any evidence he consumed alcohol on either of the flights he made that day.

Two of the witnesses gave their evidence over the telephone from Germany.

Jesus Fernandez, the chief flight attendant on the Oct. 13 Lufthansa flight that brought Dziekanski from Poland to Germany said he caught a slight smell of alcohol on the man's breath when he boarded the flight.

Unable to speak to him in either English or German, Fernandez said he contacted a Polish-speaking ground agent and asked him to tell the passenger that he wouldn't be served any alcohol on the short flight.

He said the passenger agreed and his behaviour was normal.

"He was very calm and shy," said Fernandez.

When Dziekanski boarded the Condor Airlines flight to Vancouver he was met at the cabin door by purser Adolf Buettner.

Asked to describe how he appeared, Buettner said he was "sweating a little bit and he didn't react to my greeting."

His eyes appeared tired and were glistening, he said.

Buettner, whose evidence was given in German through a translator, said Dziekanski caused no problems on the flight, which was only half full.

There was no issue with him drinking, he said.

In a statement taken after Dziekanski was Tasered, Buettner had said the man had appeared a little agitated and emotional.

However, when questioned on this Buettner said these were just assumptions.

"It was only an attempt from me to explain why this person was slightly sweating. He was simply tired, that's what I believe," he said.

Christiane Hewer, a passenger on the Frankfurt-Vancouver flight didn't speak with Dziekanski, but saw him sitting in some seats ahead of her. He spent most of the time sleeping or watching videos, she said.

"He didn't attract any attention to himself. He was totally inconspicuous," she said.

Patricia Hunter, a greeter working in the airport's international arrivals area, spotted Dziekanski alone in the hall after the other passengers had passed through customs.

She said he was walking steadily and looking straight ahead. "He looked unusual, like a robot," said Hunter who asked him if he'd filled in his customs declaration form. When he didn't understand, she waved him forward to a customs officer.

Hunter said she didn't smell alcohol on him but noticed a sheen of perspiration over his lips.

She watched the customs officer come out from his booth and take Dziekanski to a table where he showed him an instruction booklet for filling in the declaration written in Polish.

Hunter said she left the area about 5:30 p.m.

Dziekanski would remain roaming around the area until confronted by police officers about 1:15 a.m. the next day.

Monday's afternoon proceedings were interrupted when a male entered the hearing room and began shouting there was "no justice in Canada."

The man, who shouted, "I'm here to protect the rights of Polish people," was removed from the hearing by two undercover RCMP officers sitting in the audience and federal government security officers inside the building.

The man said he was from Victoria but wouldn't give his name to reporters. He was released after being interviewed by Vancouver police officers.

The inquiry continues.

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