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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mountie displays ugly attitude when an apology is in order

February 24, 2009
By Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER — RCMP Const. Gerry Rundel would do it all again. One of four Mounties who confronted Robert Dziekanski the night he was Tasered and died at Vancouver airport, he insisted that the 40-year-old Polish immigrant posed “a great risk.”

The burly middle-aged man clutched a stapler in one hand, the police officer said, and though he and his colleagues wore bulletproof Kevlar vests and carried firearms along with the conducted-energy weapon, he feared for his safety.

During his two days of testimony at the public inquiry into the 2007 tragedy, Rundel repeatedly maintained that he and the squad acted properly: “We acted and responded appropriately.”

When pressed as to whether he felt any regret, the 48-year-old Mountie with only two years’ experience at the time of the incident replied flatly: “Of course.”

He didn’t display any.

The first of the officers to testify showed not an ounce of sympathy for what happened to Dziekanski and, for the second day on Tuesday, reduced his mother to tears.

His testy demeanour and legalistic sparring in my view reflected an ugly trait too common within the national police force — a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude when called to account.

Former B.C. Court of Appeal justice Thomas Braidwood, who is conducting the two-stage inquiry into Dziekanski’s death and into the use of the conducted energy weapon, seemed less than impressed.

Rundel said the four Mounties were disturbed during their lunch break by the dispatch call about Dziekanski creating a disturbance in the international terminal.

They each took separate police cars to the scene and Rundel says they did not have any discussion about what they were going to do when they got there.

After arriving at the terminal, Rundel says they didn’t bother to pause to discuss among themselves who would do what.

They didn’t bother to talk to the people at the scene or even try to determine what the problem was. They focused on Dziekanski and headed straight for him. He was zapped within seconds of their arrival.

Although he continually blamed the speed of events for memory lapses and his confusion, Rundel couldn’t explain why the officers felt such urgency.

I didn’t buy his rationale for the Taser’s discharge, either.

The Mounties knew Dziekanski spoke no English, yet Rundel didn’t for a second think about getting a translator.

As Dziekanski lay dying, Rundel thought he was “snoring” and went off to interview witnesses with a view to charging him with mischief or some such misdemeanour.

Nevertheless, he didn’t come to the inquiry to apologize for making an error in judgment or acknowledge a too hastily made decision.

Rundel refused even to admit the Mounties had options but didn’t consider them before confronting Dziekanski.

Rather, he described Dziekanski as dishevelled and steadfastly portrayed him as aggressive and combative.

Dziekanski was an exhausted traveller who had spent 24 hours on an airplane and 10 in an airport, a man who hadn’t slept or shaved and who was frustrated at being unable to find his mother.

Rundel’s notes and statement made after Dziekanski died Oct. 14, 2007, were shown at the inquiry to be at odds with the amateur video of the encounter. But they weren’t wrong in the officer’s view — just “out of sequence.”

That is “out of sequence” in a way that suggested Dziekanski was brandishing the stapler above his head moments before he was jolted five times. Instead, video shows his arm never rose above his head until after he was Tasered and his body began flailing from the shock.

His responses seemed more scripted than spontaneous; his long pauses and constant water-sipping added to body language that screamed discomfort.

Instead of this brazen performance, Rundel should have done the right thing: He should have offered his condolences to a heartbroken mom.

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