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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mountie tells probe he felt threatened by stapler

March 25, 2009
IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- RCMP Corporal Benjamin Monty Robinson, who once won a provincial bravery award for helping arrest a man armed with an axe and a bat, yesterday told the inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski he felt threatened by the Polish immigrant's menacing behaviour with a stapler.

"It was a combination of his combative nature in grabbing a stapler and taking a step forward," Cpl. Robinson said, explaining why no taser warning was given before Mr. Dziekanski received the first of five jolts during a confrontation with four Mounties at Vancouver airport on the morning of Oct. 14, 2007.

The officer said he thought Mr. Dziekanski, distraught and unsettled after being lost in the airport for 10 hours, was going to hit him with the office item.

But government lawyer Helen Roberts also asked Cpl. Robinson about another aspect of his past.
She referred to a 2000 incident in which he and two other officers confronted a man armed with an axe and bat at the Adams Lake Indian Band office in Chase, B.C.

Inquiry leader Thomas Braidwood, a former B.C. justice, warned Ms. Roberts about raising the issue. "You're opening the door," he said, but she proceeded. Reasons for raising the matter yesterday were unclear.

Cpl. Robinson has 11 years policing experience, more than the other three officers combined. His mastery of first aid has arisen as an issue in the Dziekanski matter. However, he said yesterday that based on his actions during the incident in Adams Lake, he was "confident" about his ability to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

He also admitted that his first-aid training had been expired for five years on the night that he helped tend to the unconscious Mr. Dziekanski, who died from a heart attack after being tasered and wrestled into handcuffs by the officers.

Cpl. Robinson and two other officers won awards of valour at the Police Honours Night ceremony in Victoria in 2002. The awards are handed out by the provincial solicitor-general.

Ms. Roberts, following a break, said she had rethought the wisdom of raising the Adams Lake incident. Mr. Braidwood later said the matter would not be relevant in his review of the issues before him.

Earlier, Cpl. Robinson described Mr. Dziekanski as one of the strongest suspects he ever had to tackle.

"I would rank him as one of the hardest people I have ever had to arrest, to put the handcuffs on," he testified.

Cpl. Robinson said Mr. Dziekanski had a notable "ability to resist," that was "very extreme."
At one point, he said it took the efforts of himself and one other constable - Gerry Rundell - to get the cuffs on one of Mr. Dziekanski's arms.

The officer, earlier praised tasers as a powerful tool for policing, saying that he had been tasered in training. "All I can tell you is it was discomforting and then it goes away," he said.

He said he had reservations about using his baton. "The safest tool to use at the time was the conducted-energy weapon," he said.

The four officers were at the RCMP's airport detachment when they heard a dispatcher's report about Mr. Dziekanski, who had spent 21 hours flying from Poland to Canada, and another 10 lost in the airport, reportedly throwing furniture around.

They proceeded, each in their own vehicle, to the airport and approached Mr. Dziekanski, who did not speak English, without discussing a game plan for dealing with the situation.

After a few basic attempts to communicate, Cpl. Robinson gave an order to fire the taser, but by then the sole officer carrying a conducted-energy weapon had already deployed it.

The officers have said they felt threatened because Mr. Dziekanski was holding a stapler in what they described as a "combative position."

Cpl. Robinson yesterday rejected a suggestion from Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Mr. Dziekanski's mother, that the officers "went in like a SWAT team instead of being deliberate" in their approach.

Mr. Kostekyj rhymed off the weapons the officer was equipped with: a baton, pepper spray, vest, and a handgun. "Your fellow officers were similarly armed except that one of them, in addition to all that, had a taser." The lawyer wondered why they all had not warned Mr. Dziekanski - implying that even a warning in a foreign language might have made an impression on the exhausted traveller.

"He didn't afford us the opportunity," said Cpl. Robinson.

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