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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Unbelievable testimony; unknowable pain

March 24, 2009
GARY MASON, Globe and Mail

Just days after the head of the RCMP asked the Canadian public to "walk a mile in the shoes" of his officers, the mother of Robert Dziekanski attempted to get a member of the force to do exactly the same thing with her.

The moment occurred yesterday as Corporal Benjamin Robinson was about to enter a hearing room at the inquiry into the death of Mr. Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in October, 2007. Cpl. Robinson was the supervising officer at the scene where the 40-year-old Polish immigrant died after being tasered five times.

Mr. Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, chased after Cpl. Robinson, who would spend the day testifying.

"Excuse me sir," she said, as she pursued Cpl. Robinson down a hallway. "Excuse me."

But Cpl. Robinson slipped into the hearing room before Mrs. Cisowski had a chance to speak with him.

"I wanted him to see my pain," Mrs. Cisowski said when asked afterwards what she wanted to discuss with the officer. "I wanted him to look at me and see the pain I have been caused. I wanted to ask him where my son was now."

An RCMP official at the inquiry later spoke to Mrs. Cisowski about arranging a meeting with Cpl. Robinson. She wasn't interested. Instead, Mrs. Cisowski contented herself with listening to Cpl. Robinson recall the events leading up to her son's death.

Cpl. Robinson, 38, was the last of the four RCMP officers called to the airport that night to testify at the inquiry into the incident that former judge Thomas Braidwood is leading.

Cpl. Robinson - who is facing possible charges of impaired driving causing death in an unrelated incident in October, 2008 - said he issued the first order to taser Mr. Dziekanski. That contradicted earlier testimony from Constable Kwesi Millington, who said he fired the weapon unprompted. Constable Millington said he heard Cpl. Robinson order him to taser Mr. Dziekanski only later, after the distraught man had already been zapped twice and was on the ground writhing in pain.

Cpl. Robinson said that actions he took to defuse the situation with Mr. Dziekanski couldn't be seen on the video shot of the incident because they took place during a second or two when the scene of the confrontation was obscured by a post.

Funny that. Constable Millington earlier testified he also took actions to prevent the situation from escalating. But they also couldn't be seen on the video because of that damn post. Wouldn't you know it.

For me, much of Cpl. Robinson's testimony defied belief. Like his statement that he had barely seen the video of the incident in the past 17 months. Right. Nor could Cpl. Robinson remember Constable Millington twice tasering Mr. Dziekanski in the painful push-stun mode - where the taser is applied directly to the body - even though he was virtually beside the officer at the time. (He said he remembered Mr. Dziekanski being tasered only twice in total.)

All the officers - including Cpl. Robinson yesterday - denied talking among themselves before talking to investigators. And yet, each of them told investigators the same story: that Mr. Dziekanski was tasered after he charged the officers with a stapler held high in the air. That Mr. Dziekanski had to be tasered a couple of times because he wouldn't go down. And that he finally had to be tackled to the ground by a couple of the officers.

The problem is that none of this happened. None of it. Yet, all of the officers remembered the same set of incorrect facts.

Asked about the contradiction between his statement and the video evidence, Cpl. Robinson admitted he got it wrong. But added: "Just because I was mistaken doesn't mean I was lying."

All morning I thought about RCMP commissioner William Elliott's weekend plea from Kandahar, where he was visiting RCMP officers: that the public consider the stressful situations constantly facing Mounties, including the ones who encountered Robert Dziekanski.

I've tried to do that as I've attended this inquiry. But I have trouble getting beyond so much of the officers' testimony. Like Cpl. Robinson saying yesterday he wanted to keep handcuffs on Mr. Dziekanski even though ambulance officials attending to the dying man asked the officer to take them off. Why did he want to keep Mr. Dziekanski restrained? Because he still considered him a threat, he said.

An unarmed man who was unconscious and turning blue.

I tried walking in Benjamin Robinson's shoes yesterday. All I could think of was how much tougher it was to be walking in Zofia Cisowski's.


Anonymous said...

I would like to see Elliot in Dziekanski's shoes and I would like to have a taser in my hand. These four yahoos lie because they are afraid of being held responsible for Dziekanski's death& sued. They should have been charged initially by the crown and especially now after lying under oath. I have lost all respect for the RCMP in this cover up by them.

Anonymous said...

You are indeed a courageous family. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for your work and for trying to make change.