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Friday, June 12, 2009

Inquiry makes criminal allegations vs. Mounties in Dziekanski death: lawyer

June 12, 2009

The commissioner of the public inquiry into Robert Dziekanski's death has made criminal allegations against the four Mounties involved in the 2007 Taser incident, a lawyer for the officers charged Friday.

Lawyers for the four officers have launched a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court arguing that no provincial inquiry has jurisdiction to make findings of misconduct against federal police.

Ravi Hira, one of the lawyers, said in court Friday that the draft findings of the inquiry are out of bounds because they accuse the officers of serious criminal acts.

Inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood has sent notices to Const. Kwesi Millington, Const. Bill Bentley, Const. Gerry Rundel and Cpl. Monty Robinson, outlining some of the broad allegations made against them during the inquiry by several lawyers.

Dziekanski died on Oct. 14, 2007, shortly after the RCMP officers used a Taser several times to subdue him at Vancouver International Airport. The officers were responding to reports that the Polish immigrant was behaving aggressively and throwing furniture.

Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal justice, has said he might find the officers at fault, but Hira said Braidwood is in effect calling his clients criminals.

The inquiry draft report that says using the Taser was "not justified" is an accusation of "assault with a weapon," which is a criminal offence," Hira told court.

The part where the draft says the officers "misrepresented" the facts is an allegation of "obstruction of justice," Hira argued.

And saying that the officers gave "misleading testimony" amounts to an allegation of perjury, Hira said.

"[The inquiry's] purpose was to provide Mr. Dziekanski's family and the public with a complete record of the circumstances of ... Mr. Dziekanski's death," he said.

"The focus of the inquiry very quickly became the conduct of these four officers, and that's it."

Robert Dziekanski was jolted up to five times with a Taser by RCMP officers at the international arrivals area of Vancouver International Airport. (Paul Pritchard)
While B.C.'s Public Inquiry Act gives Braidwood the power to make findings of misconduct, Hira said that direction was not included in the original terms of reference from the provincial government.

Neither the RCMP nor the federal government sent representatives to attend Friday's court proceeding.

The RCMP in B.C. has distanced itself from the lawsuit filed by the four Mounties. Official spokesman Sgt. Tim Shields told CBC News on Tuesday that the force in the province "will co-operate fully with the inquiry" and is "recognizing the jurisdiction of the inquiry as having authority."

A provincially mandated inquiry was called in the wake of Dziekanski's death and is being overseen by Braidwood. The inquiry, which began in January and wrapped up testimony in May, heard from more than 80 witnesses.

The B.C. criminal justice branch decided last December not to charge the four officers, saying they acted with reasonable force when they confronted Dziekanski.

With closing arguments scheduled at the inquiry next Friday, the four officers' legal challenge is being heard quickly, with a decision expected as soon as Monday.

Lawyers for the inquiry have suggested a final report could be ready by the fall, but it's not clear how that might be affected, if at all, by the current court challenge.

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