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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Public inquiry into Robert Dziekanski's death hears from its last witness

May 26, 2009
By Sunny Dhillon, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, which heard compelling testimony from the Mounties involved in his death and airport visitors who witnessed the tragic incident, ended with a bit of a whimper Tuesday as the last witness took the stand.

Engineer Duane MacInnis testified that amateur video taken of Dziekanski moments before he was stunned with an RCMP Taser could not be used to support the force's claim that the Polish man was advancing on officers.

With that, the proceedings were adjourned until June 19 when closing arguments will be heard. A final report by commissioner Thomas Braidwood is expected in the fall.

Dziekanski died on the floor of Vancouver's airport in October 2007 after he was shocked multiple times by an RCMP Taser. He had wandered around the customs hall for hours, looking for his mother after arriving from Poland to start a new life in Canada. Police were summoned to deal with Dziekanski after he began throwing furniture in the arrivals area of the airport. He was jolted by the Taser within seconds of their arrival on the scene.

The inquiry, which heard from more than 80 witnesses and stretched beyond four months, heard conflicting views about what actually caused Dziekanski's death and about the actions of RCMP and airport officials.

The four officers each told the inquiry they tried to calm the man, but he came at them with a stapler. They repeatedly stunned him on the ground because, they said, he was fighting back.

Much of that picture was disputed by the now-infamous video and by other witnesses at the hearings, who described a man more scared than violent.

Don Rosenbloom, a lawyer for the Polish government, told reporters Tuesday there were a number of troubling moments during the inquiry, and he was left with one important question that may never be answered. "After the (four Mounties) provided their statements to the investigating authorities about what was their version of the events of that day, regrettably the RCMP's (Integrated Homicide Investigation Team) investigators never chose to go back to the officers, show them the video, and ask the officers to reconcile what is seen by all of us on the video with what they said in their statements to the IHIT investigators," he said.

"That wasn't done. What was the consequence of that to all of us?"

Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, was at the hearing Tuesday and told reporters she didn't testify before the inquiry because her doctor advised her against it due to her blood pressure.

Cisowski, visibly nervous as she spoke to the media throng, said she just wants to know what really happened the day her son died. "The Braidwood commission have given me a chance to know the truth and I'm expecting to know the truth," she said.

When asked what the best possible outcome of the inquiry could possibly be, Rosenbloom too spoke of getting at the truth. "The most positive result will obviously be that a decision-maker with the esteem of Mr. Braidwood reviews all of the evidence before this tribunal and informs the public and indeed the governmental agencies of what happened here and who was telling the truth in this room and who wasn't telling the truth," he said.

The inquiry heard allegations of a cover-up over the obvious disparity between the statements the officers involved gave to investigators and the witness video.

Public outrage seemed to grow as RCMP officials explained why their initial public statements on the death also diverged from the witness video and as experts paid by Taser International offered explanations on the cause of death.

Crown prosecutors announced last December that Cpl. Monty Robinson, Const. Bill Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington and Const. Gerry Rundel would not be charged in Dziekanski's death, saying they used reasonable force.

All four officers took the stand at the inquiry, with Robinson, the most senior member, insisting he was ineloquent when he gave two separate statements to investigators probing the in-custody death.

Robinson conceded Dziekanski didn't swing the stapler as was originally claimed, and didn't have to be wrestled to the ground after being hit with the first shock.

The three other officers have said they gave their best recollections of a fast-paced, stressful event.

While on the stand, Bentley apologized to Cisowski for her loss. Cisowski refused to accept, saying it was far too late for apologies.

Earlier this month, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney apologized for Dziekanski's death. The force has also apologized for its inaccurate public statements in the days that followed the airport incident.

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