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Sunday, March 08, 2009

‘RCMP has been terribly damaged’: former police officer

By Suzanne Fournier, Canwest News Service

The stark contradictions between the videotape of Robert Dziekanski’s death in RCMP custody — after he was repeatedly Tasered at Vancouver International Airport — and key parts of RCMP officers’ evidence at the Braidwood inquiry could have serious repercussions once the inquiry ends.

The four officers may have gone into the inquiry believing they would never face criminal charges — as decided by the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch last Dec. 12 — but that decision could change, “especially given the public outcry at evidence from the inquiry,” notes Robert Gordon, head of Simon Fraser University’s criminology department.

“I don’t think anyone in my network, or in most comments I hear, is convinced the officers are telling the truth.”

Gordon says the officers could still face criminal charges, “and it looks increasingly like the RCMP should proceed with internal discipline. Does the RCMP have the stomach for that? It looks now like they don’t have a choice.”

But Gordon says it would be “much easier and quicker to proceed with civil litigation” against the RCMP, or even other government or corporate agencies that harmed Dziekanski, failed to assist him, or failed to act to save his life.

“As in the O.J. Simpson case, the burden of proof is far less, and a civil suit could provide Mr. Dziekanski’s mother with more comfort and compensation,” said Gordon.

Gordon says “the public may call for its pound of flesh” but said he doesn’t think, “with all due respect to the Dziekanski family, that there is much to be gained by dragging the four officers through the criminal courts.”

The RCMP have been “terribly damaged” by the inquiry, said Gordon, but “they’ve already dug their own grave by insisting their officers acted appropriately. They refused to acknowledge problems in how their officers responded and handled Mr. Dziekanski. As a former police officer myself, I can confidently say it was atrocious police work.”

Walter Kosteckyj, lawyer for Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, has confirmed that his client will consider civil litigation, but said the federal government, which is responsible for the RCMP, the airport, and the Canada Border Services Agency, has rebuffed a bid to get Cisowski an apology and compensation, in lieu of a painful civil trial.

Kosteckyj notes Dziekanski’s mother, a Kamloops janitor, “has suffered terribly and is enduring a significant loss; he was her only son and would have been the mainstay of her life. . . . She’s unable to work.

“The people of Canada expect that it is time for sanity to prevail. Our national government did not treat this man in a fair manner at all, nor have they been fair to Zofia Cisowski.”

Kosteckyj said compensation and an apology by Ottawa is preferable to “dragging my client through a civil trial.”

The Braidwood inquiry is to resume March 23 for two more weeks, with testimony from pathology and medical witnesses, Cisowski herself, and the fourth officer, RCMP Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson.

Commissioner Tom Braidwood, a former judge, is to report to B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal by June 30.

Neil MacKenzie, Crown counsel spokesman, said the decision last Dec. 12 not to charge the officers was based on the police investigation by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT).

“It’s always open to us to have the matter reviewed and resubmitted,” said MacKenzie, noting, “It’s not uncommon for us to return a file to police.”

Gordon noted that, because the IHIT had the benefit of the Pritchard video to compare with the officers’ statements, yet didn’t recommend charges, it might be necessary to get a special prosecutor or independent police investigation, all of which would be time-consuming and costly.

“Certainly, if the Criminal Justice Branch felt criminal offences were committed and they lacked confidence that IHIT was able to do a thorough investigation, they are able (after the Braidwood inquiry) to request another investigation,” said Gordon.

“A special prosecutor could be appointed if it’s decided that an independent decision is required . . . and that’s always the prerogative of the attorney general.”

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