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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Raphael Alexander: RCMP on Dziekanski -- 'We rarely have our facts straight early on'

May 7, 2009
Posted by National Post Editor
Full Comment, Raphael Alexander

Just when you think nothing more scandalous could be discovered at the Braidwood Inquiry overseeing the taser-related death of 40-year-old Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport on October 14, 2007, the former commanding officer in charge of investigating the death today defended the RCMP decision to maintain erroneous information publicly for 14 months. The preliminary reports of the death have been contradicted by actual testimony during the Braidwood Inquiry, leading many people to speculate there has been an attempted RCMP coverup. RCMP Superintendent Wayne Rideout explained that he did not correct falsified reports in the media because his “[...] belief at the time is we needed to protect the facts we were gathering”. He said that it was his decision not to release any further facts about the case, although they allowed the preliminary reports of Mr.Dziekanski being combative, resistant, and only fired upon with the taser twice to stand.

“We rarely have our facts straight early on,” he explained.

That’s interesting. If the police rarely have their facts straight early in a case, how is it also possible the RCMP immediately exonerated the officers involved, and decided they had acted “appropriately”? How is it that an email from RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass written on November 24, 2007, indicates he met with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell at the airport, who expressed support for the actions of the officers and the continued use of Tasers?

The facts that have arisen from the Braidwood Inquiry has left a pall of doubt with the public, which seems to widely regard the case as an abuse of power by the police. The Taser, which we were told for over a year was only deployed twice, was in fact deployed five times for a total of 30 seconds of continual voltage. The victim was not at all “combative”, and did not have to be wrestled to the ground, as the video by Paul Pritchard shows quite clearly.

Mr. Rideout says he did not want to “correct” misinformation, nor release the Pritchard amateur video, believing it would “taint” the memories of the witnesses who were at the airport.

“What I was after was their true memory of the event,” Rideout told the inquiry. That comes as a little ridiculous, since the four RCMP police officers who had the best view of the entire proceeding, managed to have the worst memories of all, or so it would appear based upon their contradictory police report.

What seems to be the most consistent aspect of the RCMP, according to Mr. Rideout, is their contradictions between what they say to the public, and what has actually transpired. In an email at the time of the RCMP investigation, Mr.Rideout wrote: “We must continue to follow the evidence despite the fact [that] there will be public criticism and accusations the police were hiding things.” They knew the perception would be that they were obfuscating the truth, but they proceeded anyway.

RCMP Corporal Dale Carr testified that he sought out Mr. Rideout to correct the record publicly, but was told that “everything will be corrected eventually.” Despite denying that such a mentality is self-serving, the RCMP remained tight-lipped about the truth for 14 months, allowing the deceased’s mother to believe the initial false RCMP reports that maligned her son.

Mr.Rideout was also concerned about one other aspect of telling the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth:

“We would not want to be caught in a position where we’re defending or rationalizing any of [the officers] action,” he said.

Unfortunately the RCMP has done just that, expressly, and repeatedly, since the incident occurred. As the inquiry has already learned, a month after the death the RCMP released a report to the media that the officers on the scene had monitored Mr. Dziekanksi continuously before he died. That, too, was a falsification. Mr. Rideout testified about that mistake: “I did not foresee any of those issues would result in a criminal prosecution.”

Whatever happened to the old police adage: “Just the facts, please. Just the facts.”

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