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Friday, February 06, 2009

Dziekanski was no threat: B.C. taser inquiry witness

February 5, 2009
Suzanne Fournier, The Vancouver Sun

Eyewitness Sima Ashrafinia dismissed the idea that Robert Dziekanski could have used a stapler as a weapon against four well-armed RCMP officers who Tasered and restrained him at the airport on the night of Oct. 14, 2007.

An emotional Ashrafinia also revealed outside the inquiry Thursday why witnessing the traumatic shooting death of her best friend by Iranian police 25 years ago compelled her to speak out about Dziekanski’s death.

Ashrafinia, thanked at the Taser inquiry for being an objective and “empathetic” witness, tried with signs and four languages to calm the distraught Dziekanski, who was Tasered five times by the RCMP and died in minutes.

“He wasn’t swinging or waving the stapler. . . . It wasn’t a threatening gesture, it was a defensive gesture,” Ashrafinia testified in response to questions from Reg Harris, lawyer for Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson.

Harris, along with lawyers David Butcher for Const. Bill Bentley and Ravi Hira for Const. Kwesi Millington, tried over many unscheduled hours of grilling Ashrafinia to shake her evidence that Dziekanski posed no threat to anyone.

Watching frame by frame in court Paul Pritchard’s bystander video of Dziekanski’s Tasering and death, Ashrafinia pointed out “the pop, pop of the Taser, he is hit in the back, and then the stapler flies up. He does not threaten.”

After 24 hours en route from Poland, Dziekanski spent 10 hours at the Vancouver airport, including a five-hour gap in which he vanished in a “secure” area of the airport. He never found his mother Zofia Cisowski, a Kamloops, B.C., janitor, who waited until she was told by airport officials to go home and return the next day. By then he was dead.

Ashrafinia testified Dziekanski “was picking up objects, like that black binder, and then putting it down,” pacing back and forth and throwing a table “like a lost and scared child, who throws something to get a reaction from you.”

She said after Tasering, Dziekanski “turned blue. . . . I said, ‘My God, he’s not breathing.’ ”

She didn’t know until the next day that he had died. She offered a witness statement to an officer at the airport, but he didn’t take her name.

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