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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Neighbour angrily rejects police lawyers' focus on immigrant's reputation

IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail
March 31, 2009

VANCOUVER -- Robert Dziekanski's neighbour yesterday accused police lawyers at the inquiry into his death of trying to dirty the Polish immigrant's reputation with unnecessary questions about his health, alcohol consumption, ex-girlfriend and previous brushes with the law.

Iwona Kosowska's irritation grew throughout the hearing as she testified by video link. But she was particularly angered by a question by Ravi Hira, a lawyer for one of four Mounties involved in the fatal October, 2007, confrontation with Mr. Dziekanski, about whether he had a drinking problem.

"Can we stop this line of questioning because you are trying to make a bad person so you can kill the good person. I am fed up," she said, speaking through a Polish language interpreter in the hearing room.

The 44-year-old housewife was visible in a hotel room in the Polish city of Gliwice on a pair of jumbo-sized TV screens, as she looked into a video camera and spoke into a telephone handset.

Despite the jousting, she made some key points. Mr. Dziekanski, she said, was a healthy man with an aversion to doctors; he did not drink to excess; he was nervous about his first-ever flight, so he did not sleep for 48 hours before departing.

And he had a love of Canada that prompted him to pore over atlases and Readers' Digest.

Some spectators, apparently able to speak Polish, laughed at Ms. Kosowska's replies long before they were translated into English by a translator.

At one point, she tartly told Jan Brongers, a lawyer for the federal government, to "please ask concrete questions because we're going around in circles." Throughout her appearance, sheriffs in the hearing room had to scold spectators, who heckled the lawyers for their questions.

"It's disgusting," one man said loudly after questioning about whether Mr. Dziekanski received financial support from his mother.

Ms. Kosowska was visibly appalled when asked about Mr. Dziekanski's conduct in a bystander's video, which shows the confrontation after the Mounties arrived in response to reports that he had been acting erratically at the international arrivals area of Vancouver's airport. "I am not a psychic. I am not going to analyze what happened there. You guys made a mistake. Now you are going to turn everything around," she said.

She noted it was horrifying to watch the video, which shows the last living moments of someone she had known for 20 years. "He got killed in front of my eyes," she said.

And she expressed angry amazement that no one at one of Canada's largest airports could help someone who only spoke Polish.

That comment came after Mr. Brongers asked her about Mr. Dziekanski's possible concerns about being able to function en route to Vancouver when he did not speak English. "It [was] hard at his age to learn a new language, but one would suspect [that at] a huge airport like Vancouver someone would speak Polish." she said.

She said he did not think language would be an issue because he was expecting to meet his mother, Kamloops resident Zofia Cisowski, who was waiting for him at the airport.

The frustration that led to his outburst was understandable, she said. "If I were there and no one helped me, I would do exactly the same thing. He was asking for help, for attention."

The 40-year-old, who had begun acting erratically after an exhausting flight to Canada and 10-hour wait at the airport, died of cardiac arrest.

Ms. Kosowska was especially wary about discussing Mr. Dziekanski's relationship with a woman, who was allegedly alcoholic. "We're here to talk about Mr. Dziekanski, not [the woman]," she said, describing the matter as his "private life" and thus irrelevant.

And Mr. Hira's questioning about time Mr. Dziekanski spent in jail as a youth drew an interjection from inquiry head Thomas Braidwood, wondering about its relevance.

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Mr. Dziekanski's mother, noted that Mr. Dziekanski was in trouble when he was 17, but said the matter was not significant enough to prevent his entry into Canada. Mr. Hira has entered a motion to secure the release of all documents relevant to the matter, which has been the subject of previous media reports.

After the hearing, Mr. Hira was heckled outside the hearing room by several spectators. "You forgot to ask how many times he went to the bathroom," one man yelled.

In a subsequent interview, Mr. Hira said he thought his tactics were relevant because he was trying elicit information to explain Mr. Dziekanski's actions.

"What we're trying to do here is to gain some insights, some understanding as to why he acted this way, be it smashing the computer, throwing the chair or table," he said. "The behaviour is unusual in an international airport."

Mr. Hira, following the tactic of another police lawyer, did not tell the witness he was representing a Mountie.

"I thought that would be a good way to introduce myself and not get the witness to have a predisposition," he said.

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