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Thursday, February 05, 2009

A case for talk, not force

February 5, 2009
Globe and Mail

Robert Dziekanski represented an utterly simple problem, as the translation of his last words shows so poignantly. He was a man who couldn't find his way out of Vancouver International Airport. And because he didn't speak English or French, he couldn't make himself understood.

"How long do I still have to wait? So, you will not let me go? You will not let me out of here?" He thought he wasn't free to leave. (His mother, who had waited six hours for him, had been assured he was not in the airport, and she had gone home.) And when four Mounties moved toward him, "Leave me alone, leave me alone. Are you out of your mind?" Feeling cornered, he apparently brandished a stapler at them.

Was this a problem that required a police show of force, including five 50,000-volt zaps from a taser, to resolve? Of course not. All it required was one person to take charge of him - to find out why he had become stranded in the airport for 10 hours, to find a Polish-speaker to translate (perhaps there are one or two in Vancouver), to promise him that he would be taken care of.

All the RCMP's explanations for their actions have been revealed as empty, at the Braidwood Inquiry into the tasering of Mr. Dziekanski. This was not about an aggressive man. Nor was this about a man suffering the effects of alcohol withdrawal, in the non sequitur offered by the RCMP. It was about someone feeling confused and scared, according to the very credible testimony of a translator, using technology that produced the first audible rendering of Mr. Dziekanski's words from a bystander's videotape.

No one nearby seems to have been afraid of him. A woman testified that she had been trying to talk to the hulking, sweating man. A man who was five feet tall testified he encountered him at close quarters. A six-foot limousine driver, who had become annoyed with Mr. Dziekanski, testified he had yelled and cursed right in his face.

This was a situation that called for that staple of all human societies: communication. Mr. Dziekanski did not speak English or French, and was acting in a way that looked strange, at least to those who knew nothing of his circumstances. And the national police force in this advanced society, sizing up the situation in mere seconds, decided communication was impossible, and chose force. Of all the colossal errors that day - Oct. 14, 2007 - that was the biggest, and the most devastating.

1 comment:

Barrie Hawes said...

Tasers cannot be taught compassion and do not think---- much like the four RCMP officers. Tasers like guns do not kill, therfore it is imperative that law enforcement be carried out by individuals trained to act rather than react. From here it appears we need to wind down the entire force and start over.