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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One who fired now in crucible

Brian Hutchinson, National Post
Published: Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Of several combustive moments yesterday at the public inquiry examining the death of Polish traveller Robert Dziekanski, one that stood out will not form part of the record: a face-to-face encounter between the late man's mother and the officer who pulled the Taser trigger.

It happened at the morning break. RCMP Constable Kwesi Millington had just experienced a blistering 60-minute exchange from the witness stand with lawyer Walter Kosteckyj, who represents Zofia Cisowski, the grieving mom.

Ms. Cisowski has sat through almost every hour of this second phase to the inquiry, which began in late January. She has shed tears and given muffled cries as video footage of her son's death is replayed. She is supported by friends, who pat her back and try to provide solace.

She broke from their embrace yesterday and marched toward Const. Millington as he left the witness stand. She stopped several metres short of him.

"Hello," said Ms. Cisowski, smiling broadly and extending a hand. Then she bowed, deeply. "Nice to meet you." Her disingenuousness seemed intended to mock the officer's own. Startled, he nodded slightly and moved on.

As he'd done on Monday, the constable acknowledged yesterday in his testimony that he'd made erroneous entries into his notebook and in a statement to police the night Mr. Dziekanski died, after being zapped five times by a Taser.

He had made more erroneous statements to police investigators the following day, he admitted, and later still in a formal Taser deployment report he was required to file.

The inquiry heard again yesterday how Const. Millington had deployed his weapon five times in the RCMP's

handling of Mr. Dziekanski; four of the 50,000-volt cycles were administered after Mr. Dziekanski lay on the airport carpet, squirming in agony. Const. Millington has testified that to his knowledge, the final two deployments did not make full contact.

There seems now an insurmountable pile of evidence to demonstrate a defective RCMP response to what was an unusual but not life-threatening disturbance, made by a confused, panicked traveller.

But not criminal. The inquiry has no mandate to explore that issue. And the Crown in B. C. has already decided that criminal prosecution against Const. Millington and three other RCMP officers attending the scene 16 months ago would not likely succeed. Hence the recent announcement that no charges will be laid. Public dissatisfaction at the decision not to prosecute is growing.

RCMP officers admit having exaggerated Mr. Dziekanski's responses to them at the airport, having failed to respond, as trained, to what became a medical emergency involving their dying "client," and having made faulty, self-serving incident reports. But none have accepted any suggestion their handling of Mr. Dziekanski was anything but "appropriate."

Const. Millington was given the opportunity yesterday and refused it.

Mr. Kosteckyj hammered at the constable some more. He jabbed an accusing index finger at the witness. His face turned red. Questions became arguments; sarcasm crept into his delivery; scoldings interrupted answers. Const. Millington remained calm and deflected, but the lawyer won his pound of flesh. He gave some in the gallery what they wanted but he did not come close to matching Monday's bravura performance by a much cooler and impartial inquiry commission counsel. Mr. Kosteckyj covered little new ground and badgering the witness was pointless.

Emotions have overcome others, as well. Inquiry lawyers intermittently express concerns about clucking and sneering sounds coming from the gallery. Spectators have been asked several times by Commissioner Thomas Braidwood to keep themselves in check.

On one occasion this week, as Const. Millington was leaving the inquiry room, a woman in the public gallery pushed a picture toward him: Pinocchio. No one found it amusing, certainly not appropriate, given the importance of this process.

There is just one person from whom something less could be expected. But even in her distress, in a confrontation, Zofia Cisowski has shown dignity.

The inquiry continues.

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