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Monday, April 27, 2009

EDITORIAL: Coverup shakes faith in Mounties

April 27, 2009
The Peterborough Examiner

As the inquiry into the shameful RCMP stun-gun death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport increasingly becomes a parade of Mounties up to their tunics in horse manure, at issue is far more than shocks, lies and videotape.

It is about just how badly broken the federal force has become, and the lasting damage to both our justice system and the public’s faith in law and order.

For most Canadians, the Dziekanski inquiry long ago stopped being about what four Mounties armed with 250,000 volts did to a hapless Polish traveller who arrived at Vancouver Airport on Oct. 14, 2007, to visit his mom.

All those sickening details of his final seconds with the RCMP welcoming party are on the now famous amateur video shot by a private citizen who thankfully happened on the scene.

Instead, the inquiry is all about the Mounties trying to explain why they repeatedly zapped a confused man holding a stapler, and writhing on the floor.

And when it was all over and Dziekanski was dead, how was it the national police force, sworn to uphold the truth, “misinformed” the public about the deadly encounter?

Last month, the inquiry heard RCMP testimony so at odds with the video of Dziekanski’s death that most ordinary folk must have wondered, just how stupid do they think the public is?

This past week, the force finally admitted what has been apparent since the video was first pried from RCMP clutches (under the threat of legal action) weeks after the tragedy.

“We found that there was some information that was provided and made public that was not accurate,” RCMP Sgt. Tim Shields told reporters outside the inquiry room last week.

“For those inaccuracies, we apologize and we are sorry.” Talk about too little too late.

Some of those “inaccuracies” included such minor issues as depicting Dziekanski as a raging crazy person who had been struggling with three police officers, swinging an object over his head, when he was downed by two jolts from the Taser.

Turns out he had a stapler at his side (not overhead), and his only contact with the Mounties was after he was on the floor in pain from the first of five (not two) 50,000-volt hits, and four (not three) burly cops piled on him, one on his neck.

So much misinformation from police involved in the incident might have explained how the RCMP media relations officers came to feed the same crock to reporters and the public.

But last week, one of those officers admitted he and a colleague from the PR department had watched the video before briefing the media.

They were later ordered by a superior officer not to correct the record, supposedly to protect potential evidence, including the video.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott recently asked the public not to jump to any conclusions, and to have sympathy for his position.

All of which can only damage the image and morale of a force already in the dumps after years of misguided management from the commissioner’s office down.

Imagine how embarrassing and demoralizing the flimflam from the Dziekanski inquiry must be for all the devoted men and women who serve with distinction on the national force.

But the effects of this sordid affair go far beyond the RCMP.

Every day in courtrooms across the country, citizens accused of all manner of wrongdoing have their fates decided in large part by the word of the cops.

Police being truthful is obviously a cornerstone of our legal system, essential to keep the scales of justice balanced and fair to accused, victims and society alike.

It is equally important that the cops be seen to be telling the truth — a society that loses trust in the police, quickly loses respect for the law.

Unfortunately, no matter how the Dziekanski inquiry ends, it is unlikely most Canadians will take away a lasting impression of cops telling the whole truth and nothing but.

Let’s face it: Were it not for the amateur video, there is a good chance Dziekanski’s death would have been quietly filed as another routine case of police using a Taser to defend themselves in the line of duty.

Last fall, on the eve of the inquiry, Commissioner Elliott said his force was “anxious to participate to the fullest extent possible.

“We cannot provide effective policing services to communities without the support of those communities ... We have to be held accountable.”

A good place to start might be a shower of pink slips, or one obvious resignation.

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