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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Law Society keeps an eye on taser inquiry

June 23, 2009
Ian Bailey, The Globe and Mail

A federal lawyer's admission of errors that kept a crucial e-mail from the Braidwood Inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski has prompted the regulatory body for B.C. lawyers to begin monitoring the probe for the possibility of lawyer misconduct.

The Law Society of British Columbia isn't launching a full-fledged investigation, but will be paying a great deal of attention to the inquiry once it resumes on Sept. 22, says its director of discipline.

"If, in due course, when the inquiry resumes, any evidence comes forward or any explanation comes forward from any source that raises a real issue about professional conduct or competency of any lawyer around this document or around this CD-ROM, then we would open a file at that point," Stuart Cameron said in an interview yesterday.

Until now, the society was not paying much attention to the inquiry launched by the province to look into the police use of stun guns and questions around the death of Mr. Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, in a confrontation with the RCMP on Oct. 14, 2007.

"What changed is what happened on Friday morning," Mr. Cameron said.

As final submissions by an array of lawyers were supposed to begin last Friday, the inquiry heard that the federal justice department failed to promptly disclose and deliver e-mails on a CD-ROM provided by the RCMP, including one between two senior Mounties that suggested the four Mounties involved went to the airport intending to taser Mr. Dziekanski.

The officers denied such a plan in their testimony.

Mr. Dziekanski, 40, died of cardiac arrest.

He had been stunned five times with a taser and cuffed by four Mounties, who came to Vancouver International Airport to respond to calls that he was acting in an erratic manner. He was exhausted after a long flight to Canada and hours of being lost in a terminal.

Helen Roberts, a lawyer for the federal government, tearfully apologized to commission head Thomas Braidwood for failing to disclose the e-mail, but noted there is no evidence to show the allegation in the e-mail is factual.

Still, the existence of the message written in the month after Mr. Dziekanski's death will likely force the recall of the four officers, the two Mounties who sent and received the message, and a third mentioned in the communication. It will likely delay the inquiry's conclusion for weeks.

Mr. Cameron said no one has yet filed a complaint about the conduct of Ms. Roberts, and that the society is reluctant to do anything that would interfere with the business of the inquiry. However, he suggested the society is mindful of possible complaints about lawyer misconduct that might arise from last week's surprising conclusions.

"It's wait and see. We, at this point, don't have any intention of specifically asking Ms. Roberts for an explanation beyond what she's said. Nor do we have any intention of saying, 'Please let us know whoever else was working on the file. Pinpoint where the hand-off got fumbled,' " he said.

"We're not going to be asking those questions at this stage. That's not because we don't think it's important, but we do want due process to carry through here."

He said the society would investigate if someone files an official complaint.

Lawyers at the inquiry have raised concerns that other documents crucial to the work of the inquiry may not yet have been disclosed.

The society has varied powers to maintain and enforce high standards for legal services and also to deal with complaints or concerns about lawyer competence through informal measures or the use of committees. Lawyers can be reprimanded, fined, suspended or even disbarred for professional misconduct, incompetence, conduct unbecoming a member of the profession or breach of rules.

Lyse Cantin, a Vancouver-based spokesperson for the federal justice department, yesterday declined comment on Mr. Cameron's remarks.

The inquiry was established by the provincial attorney-general in February, 2008.

The B.C. government announced yesterday that Mr. Braidwood had delivered the first of two volumes of reports expected from his inquiry.

The document, which will be released with the approval of the provincial cabinet, covers the police use of stun guns. The second volume, which hinges on the results of hearings that would come on or after Sept. 22, will be focused on Mr. Dziekanski.

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