January 20, 2009
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Border officers knew Robert Dziekanski didn't speak English soon after he arrived at Vancouver's airport and would have had access to a translator had they decided to call one, a public inquiry heard Tuesday.
Instead, the confused man wandered around the airport for hours in the international arrivals area where he was supposed to meet his mother, becoming so agitated that he started throwing furniture.
That's when police were called and Dziekanski was fatally jolted with a Taser as four RCMP officers confronted him.
The Canadian Border Services Agency and the airport faced heavy criticism after Dziekanski's death in October 2007, specifically for not calling a translator to help the man.
Monica Kullar, one of the first border officers to deal with Dziekanski in Vancouver, told the inquiry that he was sweating and speaking rapidly in Polish as he tried to fill out a form for customs.
Kullar said Dziekanski calmed down and was courteous and non-threatening as he finished filling out the document and moved on.
She marked off a section on his form that indicated he had a language barrier, which would have been seen by other officers who encountered him in the hours before his death.
"So if the passenger does not speak English or French and we are unable to communicate with him, it is a mandatory referral for a language barrier," Kullar said.
"It would go to both customs and immigration, if they are a non-resident."
Dziekanski took hours to pass through various stages of customs and immigration screenings before he walked to the international arrivals area.
It was there where he became angry and had his first confrontation with airport security and then RCMP officers.
No one called a translator, even though it was clear that Dziekanski was from Poland and he was flagged for not speaking English.
Kullar said she wouldn't normally call a translator to her station, which is the primary inspection point where passengers make customs declarations.
She said that would be the responsibility of other officers in the secondary screening areas, where they have phone access to translators.
Yvette-Monique Gray of the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed that officers have a list of translators who are just a phone call away 24 hours a day.
Gray wouldn't comment specifically about what happened to Dziekanski, but she said there are other ways to communicate with people who don't speak English, such as translated instruction booklets.
She told reporters during a break in the hearings that border officers will tell the inquiry why a translator wasn't called.
Kullar's testimony reinforced earlier witness accounts suggesting that while Dziekanski may have been sweating and nervous, he was relatively calm in the hours before his death.
She said that when she saw Dziekanski from a distance just before 1 a.m. - less than an hour before he was stunned by a Taser - he again appeared normal.
"I just remember he wasn't sweating anymore, because I was looking at that when he first came in and he seemed a lot calmer than when I first saw him."
Still, Kullar didn't inquire about why Dziekanski was still in the airport when she left for the night, nearly nine hours after she first encountered him.
A fellow passenger and two crew members on Dziekanski's flights to Canada testified Monday that he was sweating but otherwise appeared peaceful.
That testimony, as well as Kullar's, prompted the RCMP officers' lawyers to focus their questions about how sweaty Dziekanski appeared and whether he may have been drinking.
It was a strategy that the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother said attempted to vilify the man.
The inquiry also saw surveillance video recordings Tuesday of Dziekanski in the airport.
There were more than five hours - between about 4 p.m., shortly after he finished with Kullar, until 9:25 p.m. - during which he couldn't be seen on any surveillance camera.
He is then seen calmly moving through immigration screening areas, interacting with officers and having his luggage inspected. In the final clip, RCMP officers are seen running to Dziekanksi, who was out of view.
Dziekanksi's mother, Zofia Cisowski, was in the courtroom wiping away tears as she watched the video of her son's final hours.
The inquiry is scheduled for the next six weeks as retired judge Thomas Braidwood examines the circumstances surrounding Dziekanski's death and prepares to make recommendations.
Among the witnesses will be the four RCMP officers who responded.
A report from another inquiry Braidwood oversaw last year to examine the use of Tasers in general is expected within weeks.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
January 20, 2009