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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Crowd vents anger over Taser inquiry

April 4, 2009
Petti Fong, Toronto Star

VANCOUVER – An angry crowd waited outside the hearing room for the lawyer representing one of the RCMP officers this week at the inquiry into Robert Dziekanski's death.

"Shame, shame!" shouted members of the Polish-Canadian community, who have looked on from the public gallery during the probe into the death of the Polish immigrant after he was Tasered by police at Vancouver International Airport in October 2007.

"Have you no shame?" they demanded of lawyer Ravi Hira, who represents Const. Kwesi Millington, the RCMP officer who fired the Taser.

Hira has been asking questions this week along with other lawyers representing the RCMP about the personal life and habits of Dziekanski.

How much did he drink? How much did he smoke? Did he ever throw furniture around? Did Dziekanski have a heart condition? That kind of questioning is disgraceful, said Zygmunt Riddle, a former Polish resident now living in the North Shore who attended the hearing this week. "No relevance."

But Hira defended his actions, telling the irate crowd calmly that "I'm doing my duty regardless of what you think about it."

Friends of Dziekanski, testifying this week from Poland via video or telephone, answered those queries from lawyers for the RCMP with consistency. No one ever saw him angry. Dziekanski had quit smoking just days before coming to Canada and his drinking was negligible.

"You're trying to make a bad person out of him, which means you can kill a bad person but you cannot kill a good person," said Dziekanski's neighbour, Iwona Kosowska, under questioning by Hira.

Robert Dylski, a friend, said he saw Dziekanski drink four times in the eight years he knew the man.

Slightly exasperated, Dylski said he suspected Dziekanski smoked only when he could afford it, which wasn't very often. "In Poland, there is no tradition that you walk around with a glass of whisky in your hand so I cannot tell you how much he drank in a day," he said.

As the inquiry, now heading into its fourth month, winds down, attention has shifted from the RCMP officers to the victim himself.

Dziekanski, 40, was described by friends as a gardener, a chess player and an avid student of geography. He asked a store in his hometown of Gliwice to save any magazines or books about Canada for him.

His life in Poland had its troubles, but nothing out of the ordinary. He had gotten in scraps with authorities when he was 17. He had a life he was easing out of with a former girlfriend and a young boy who looked up to him as a father figure. If Dziekanski was running away from Poland, it was not without hesitation or regrets.

"He was grasping the radiator," Dylski said through a translator, about arriving to drive Dziekanski to the airport. Dylski said he found his friend almost hysterical because Dziekanski was afraid of flying. On the speaker phone, Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, was pleading with her son to get on the plane. He had cancelled an earlier trip, said Dylski.

Maria Kozaryn, who left Poland 20 years ago, has been driving 100 kilometres every day to attend the inquiry as a spectator.

"It's not fair to make the victim the victim twice. I had to come here to support Zofia, to show we care," said Kozaryn.

Cisowski said hearing the questions posed about her son broke her heart again and again.

"The RCMP had only one thing in mind," said Cisowski. "They want to blame my son for his death."

An RCMP investigation into the actions of the four officers present when Dziekanski was Tasered was delivered last year to the province's criminal justice department, which concluded there was not enough evidence to lay charges against the officers.

Cisowski's supporters have started an online petition that has gathered more than 10,000 signatures demanding the investigation be reopened.

The hearing will resume on April 14.

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