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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mounties' moves at inquiry nothing short of tawdry

June 10, 2009
By Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

Four Mounties going to court to sanitize the findings of the inquiry into the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski are darkening the public's already dim view of the once-respected national police force.

Their B.C. Supreme Court petition mocks the intent of months of work by commissioner Tom Braidwood and the desire of Canadians for an impartial report about what happened at Vancouver airport on Oct. 14, 2007.

What triggered Monday's legal action was a letter from the inquiry's counsel informing the RCMP officers that Braidwood was mulling serious criticism of them for Tasering five times and physically restraining the 40-year-old Polish immigrant.

Dziekanski died handcuffed on the floor of the airport without regaining consciousness.

"You initially deployed the conducted energy weapon against Mr. Dziekanski ... when such deployment was not justified given the totality of the circumstances you were facing at the time," says the letter to the officers.

It continues that the Horsemen could not have "honestly perceived" Dziekanski was a threat, misrepresented what happened in notes and testimony "for the purposes of justifying" their actions, and "placed a self-serving and misleading interpretation" on events to homicide investigators.

That sent the four scurrying for cover.

Their lawyers want the B.C. Supreme Court to rule that Braidwood lacks the constitutional authority to criticize the federal cops because his mandate comes from the provincial government.

"We take the position that a provincial inquiry does not have the jurisdiction to make misconduct findings against the RCMP," said lawyer David Butcher, who represents one of the Mounties.

This unseemly development underscores the drawback of B.C.'s contracting-out of municipal and provincial police work to the Mounties -- the force reports to Ottawa, not Victoria, and so there is no local political accountability.

Walter Kosteckyj, lawyer for Dziekanski's mother Zofia Cisowski, was fuming after being told about the latest tactic by the RCMP members to avoid responsibility.

"These officers were under contract to the province of British Columbia, they were being paid by the people of the province of British Columbia," he complained.

"They don't want to be held responsible and clearly they feel that the pressure is on, so these are all last-ditch efforts."

Regardless of the latest legal ploy by the officers, Braidwood is not about to compose a report assigning criminal or civil blame. After listening to several months of evidence, though, he is going to express an opinion and offer his conclusions and recommendations.

Any findings of misconduct will add immeasurable pressure on Victoria to reconsider last December's decision to not pursue criminal charges against the four officers, make the civil case against them a slam-dunk and ensure this public relations disaster escalates into an even bigger debacle for the national force.

No wonder the Mounties are trying to dilute Braidwood's report before he gets a chance to write it.

In doing so, however, they have revealed themselves for what we had grown to suspect after their testimony: They are cowards who even today are afraid to face the music.

They also have revealed their better-late-than-never apologies issued during the inquiry to be more insincere than even cynics suggested.

How can they possibly defend this attempt to derail a disinterested inquiry into a tragedy that has captured global attention?

If these officers had such serious constitutional qualms about Braidwood's jurisdiction and questions about his authority, they should have raised them before they took the stand and shocked the world with their incredible testimony.

This latest manoeuvre to forestall the inevitable is tawdry.

Shame on all of them.


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