March 12, 2009
by Maurice Tougas
A very disturbing and perhaps epochal thing happened in a Vancouver courtroom last week.
While a member of our iconic Royal Canadian Mounted Police described his harrowing experience facing an armed and dangerous man — an incident during which he says he feared for his safety — an audience of good Canadians snickered, snorted, and laughed.
I never thought I would see the day when Canadians, some of the most law-abiding people in the world, imbued with the uniquely Canadian deference to authority, born in a country founded on the incredibly boring ideal of “peace, order, and good government,” would laugh openly at a Mountie’s testimony. The national police force has been on a downward spiral for some time now, but I fear the Force is now truly circling the drain.
It is in Vancouver that an inquiry is being held into the national disgrace that is the death of Robert Dziekanski.
The luckless Pole’s story is well known in Canada, in Poland, and probably all around the world. Upon arriving in Vancouver in Oct. 2007 after a 24-hour flight to start a new life, Dziekanski wandered Vancouver Airport for a shocking 10 hours without getting help. (How this could have happened in an airport accustomed to foreign visitors is another national disgrace.) Disoriented and angry, Dziekanski finally got some attention when he started making a ruckus. The RCMP officers assigned to the airport arrived on the scene, and a little while later, Robert Dziekanski, would-be Canadian citizen, was dead on the airport floor.
According to the four Mounties called to the scene, Dziekanski was uncooperative and acting in a threatening manner. The crucial moment for these four Mounties came when the agitated Dziekanski threatened them with an improvised weapon: a stapler. The report on the incident is unclear whether the stapler in question was a Bostich or a Swingline.
After a few seconds (not minutes, but seconds) of trying to reason with Dziekanski, and with Dziekanski now brandishing the fearsome stapler, the Mounties did the only reasonable thing in such a life-and-death situation: Const. Kwesi Millington jolted him with a Taser. When Dziekanski went down, writhing in agony, Millington hit him with another jolt. Then, with three other Mounties pinning Dziekanski to the ground by sitting on him, Millington hit him again. Dziekanski became much more docile once his life ended.
Welcome to Canada, Mr. Dziekanski. Hope you enjoyed your stay.
It was during the inquiry into Dziekanski’s death that the public turned on the Mountie, and by extension the Force itself. Millington admitted to being scared of Dziekanski that he was worried about the safety of his fellow officers, claiming that the deadly stapler being in an “open” position made it more of a threat. The snickering became so loud, the head of the inquiry was forced to tell the audience to can it.
Bear in mind that all of the Mounties were outfitted with bulletproof vests, handguns, batons, and pepper spray. They were all big men, physically fit, and trained in handling angry men in difficult situations. And yet, their first response in this situation was to deploy a Taser.
But there’s more, and it’s all bad. Millington’s notes on the incident were contradicted almost across the board by an amateur video taken at the time. If we had to depend on the testimony of the Mounties, Dziekanski would have been painted as an enraged madman brandishing a weapon in a threatening manner. But the video does not lie.
So many questions come to mind. Does RCMP training advocate immediate use of potentially lethal force? (A B.C. Crown report concluded their actions were “consistent with RCMP policy and training.”) Were Const. Millington and the others just lousy police, or representative of what the Force produces these days? (This is a real concern to me. Consider the actions of the Mounties who were called to the nightmarish Greyhound bus where Vince Li stabbed and beheaded Tim McLean. Police watched for four hours while Li did unspeakable things to his victim.) Can we trust our police to accurately reflect events? Will they be punished for their actions (firing sounds right to me), or be allowed to proceed with their careers? The B.C. attorney general’s office declared their conducts to be “reasonable and necessary in all circumstances”; is Tasering and sitting upon an unarmed and outnumbered man who doesn’t speak English considered reasonable and necessary in Canada today?
I’m not some anti-police crank. It pains me to criticize the Mounties because I admire what they stand for. The RCMP is an institution revered around the world, a true symbol of Canada, and to see them brought so low by the actions of their own members pains me deeply.
Sad to say that we may have reached a tipping point moment here, people. Future historians may look at the events in a Vancouver court room on March 2, 2009, as the moment Canadians officially lost confidence in the RCMP.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Thursday, March 12, 2009
March 12, 2009