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Monday, April 27, 2009

RCMP backtracking comes too late

April 27, 2009
Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

Slowly, but surely, the Braidwood Commission into the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski is climbing the RCMP chain of command to determine who in authority countenanced the coverup that occurred.

Just as Watergate began with an inept burglary and grew to ensnare the president, so the inept response by four dumb cops at Vancouver Airport on Oct. 14, 2007 is being eclipsed by the revelations of what followed.

The testimony last week of the RCMP "media relations" officers who left falsehoods uncorrected for more than a year was startling.

In the hours after Dziekanski's death, RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, the initial spokesman in the case, told reporters the Polish immigrant had been stunned twice when, in fact, the Taser had been deployed five times.

He went on to describe Dziekanski threatening the officers, swinging an object at them and struggling violently after the first Taser jolt had no effect -- even though a bystander's video showed otherwise.

Lemaitre said he only repeated what he was told by Cpl. Dale Carr, who was working with the investigators at the scene.

So embarrassing was Lemaitre's testimony, it prompted current senior RCMP spokesman Sgt. Tim Shields to quickly apologize for the force.

Like the rest of the RCMP's backtracking during these proceedings, however, it comes 19 months too late.

Carr, who took over from Lemaitre as spokesman, said he never corrected the initial statements because he was following orders from Supt. Wayne Rideout, the man then in charge of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.

The inaccuracies were corrected 14 months later, in December 2008, when Crown counsel announced it would not lay charges against any of the four Mounties.

Rideout ran the investigation into Dziekanski's death and was responsible for the report used to make that charge decision.

When he appears before the inquiry, he faces some tough questions.

For instance, why were the four officers not confronted with the amateur video and asked to explain the blatant contradictions between it and their version of events?

After 18 years as an investigator, Rideout could not help but notice the glaring incongruities. Not to go back and re-interview the Mounties in light of the video appears incompetent.

I am curious to see whether this veteran career cop is prepared to wear this botch-up or whether he will point upwards, too. That's why it's not just Rideout we should hear from.

I'd like to see on the stand former RCMP superintendent Ward Clapham, hired in the summer of last year to run the BC Transit cops.

He was in charge of the Richmond detachment, whose officers were involved, and, at 49, he retired suddenly last April, less than six months after the Dziekanski incident.

Did he agree with the strategy to leave the public record uncorrected? How does he feel about the conduct of his men? I bet he could shed a lot of light on these events.

But let's cut to the chase.

The man ultimately responsible for the RCMP response to this tragedy was Assistant Commissioner Peter German.

He's the only Mountie whose ambition to one day occupy the Commissioner's office in Ottawa was threatened by the Dziekanski scandal. If there is a Richard Nixon in this drama, it is German.

I'd like to see him on the stand explaining his role. Or is he going to say this outrageous incident didn't warrant his personal interest?

He must have approved Rideout's don't-tell-the-public strategy given the international furore Dziekanski's death was generating. The RCMP is a paramilitary organization and no one does anything that isn't approved by the officer in charge.

This was German's watch. The buck stopped with him.

So I say come on down, Assistant Commissioner, and tell us about your role in this entire sordid affair. Inquiring minds would love to know.

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