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Friday, June 19, 2009

Taser inquiry delayed to Sept. after explosive email suggests officers lied

WOW. This takes me back to the day the coroner's inquest into my brother's death was abruptly halted. We became aware of a letter written by then Victoria Chief of Police Paul Battershill to Dirk Ryeveld, the police complaint commissioner for British Columbia, that raised concerns about the use of tasers. (Chief Battershill was in charge of the Victoria Police Department, which had been tasked by the police complaint commissioner to investigate the Vancouver Police`s use of tasers on my brother.) When we requested that the letter, which arrived at the inquest in a binder brought by a witness police officer, be marked as an inquest Exhibit, the coroner left the room for several hours before returning to announce that the inquest was adjourned. He did so without the jury present and he then left the hearing before our lawyer Cameron Ward could file any argument or submission requesting the inquest continue. The Coroner also ordered a ban on the distribution of the letter, in which Chief Battershill raised concern about whether police, by themselves, should be in charge of deciding where tasers belonged on the use of force continuum or whether this required wider public discourse. See Taser Inquest Shut Down.


June 19, 2009
By James Keller, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. - A single sentence contained in an email between RCMP brass in the weeks after Robert Dziekanski died has derailed a public inquiry, raising questions yet again about the testimony of four police officers and prompting calls for further investigation of the national police force.

As closing arguments were set to begin on Friday, a lawyer for the inquiry revealed a previously unreleased email that suggested the RCMP officers developed a plan to use a Taser before they arrived at Vancouver's airport.

All four insisted in their testimony that they did not.

The email was met with a tearful apology by the RCMP's lawyer for not releasing it sooner and denials from lawyers for the four officers and one of the senior Mounties referenced in the note.

All claimed the contents of the email were the result of a simple misunderstanding.

Commissioner Thomas Braidwood chided the RCMP for coming up with the email so late, and put the inquiry on hold until Sept. 22 so its contents can be investigated.

"I find the delay in disclosing this material to the commission to be appalling," said Braidwood.

"At the very least, it should have been disclosed to the commission before those officers testified."

The delay means the inquiry could still be hearing new evidence from senior RCMP officials and additional testimony from the four officers nearly two years after Dziekanski died on the airport floor.

Braidwood's final report - which will serve as a public record of what happened and include recommendations to prevent future tragedies - will be put off even longer.

And in the meantime, the RCMP, whose image appears to have already been damaged by the Dziekanski affair, has been forced to explain both the contents of the email and why it was kept from public view for so long.

The email was written in November 2007, just weeks after Dziekanski's confrontation with the Mounties.

In it, Chief Supt. Dick Bent and RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al McIntyre were discussing their media strategy for the release of the now-infamous amateur video of the fatal confrontation.

Bent recounted a conversation with Supt. Wayne Rideout, who was in charge of the investigation into Dziekanski's death.

"Spoke to Wayne, and he indicated that the members . . . . had discussed the response en route and decided that if he did not comply, that they would go to CEW (Taser)," wrote Bent, whose email was read in court on Friday.

The inquiry heard that the email was contained on a CD that the RCMP gave its lawyers in April, but government lawyers didn't look through its contents until this week.

Federal government lawyer Helen Roberts apologized for not finding the email sooner, which she called an "oversight," while casting doubt on the email's contents.

"Canada continues, as it has all along, to fully support the work of this commission," a tearful Roberts told the commissioner.

Still, Roberts said government lawyers have interviewed Bent, Rideout and McIntyre and concluded Bent's email may have simply been wrong.

"It is our conclusion from these interviews that Chief. Supt. Bent must have misunderstood information provided to him by Supt. Rideout," she said.

Lawyers for the four Mounties each stood up and said Bent's email was wrong.

But that wasn't enough for the commission.

While inquiry lawyer Art Vertlieb acknowledged the email was second-hand hearsay, he said the commission must determine whether or not Bent's comments are accurate - and whether there are any other documents that have yet to be seen.

"The RCMP have had this for a long, long time - it should have been out," Vertlieb told reporters.

The force released a statement insisted it has "co-operated fully" with the inquiry.

"Unfortunately in an exercise of this magnitude, such an oversight can occur," the statement said.

"The RCMP is as disappointed as all of the parties involved in this inquiry that there will be a delay in the completion of the inquiry."

Vertlieb also pointed out that it's not clear if prosecutors saw the email before making their decision on charges.

"One of the other questions is: Did the attorney general's office and the charge approval see this? And we have no idea."

Crown prosecutors announced last December that they wouldn't be charging the officers, but the officers' testimony prompted loud calls for that decision to be reconsidered.

The attorney general at the time said they could re-open the case if they hear new evidence, although the current attorney general wouldn't say whether the email would fit the bill.

Mike de Jong, who was sworn in as attorney general last week, declined to comment about the contents of the email or whether prosecutors may have seen it, and said any further decisions would wait until after the inquiry.

"It will be for Mr. Justice Braidwood to assess the evidence, assess its relevance and make appropriate findings," de Jong said in an interview.

"I will say this: Commissions like this and in fact our system of justice, rely on the fact that all witnesses who give evidence under oath, that they provide truthful and honest answers."

Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, who has long demanded that the officers be charged, said she doesn't believe Bent was mistaken in the email.

She said she believes Braidwood will get to the truth of what really happened.

"I have to wait patiently, because what can I do?" she said. "I want to know everything about this case and that helps me to slowly understand."

The four RCMP officers' lawyers are also in the middle of their own legal manoeuvres unrelated to Friday's surprising developments.

Earlier in the week, they lost a court challenge in a B.C. court, where they argued Braidwood shouldn't be able to make findings of misconduct against them.

Ravi Hira, one of the officers' lawyers, said he and the others are considering launching an appeal, although he wouldn't say if the latest delay gives them more time to do that.

"We're certainly looking at that (an appeal)," said Hira.

Ujjal Dosanjh, a former B.C. premier and the federal Liberals' public safety critic, used the furor over the undisclosed email to call for a "comprehensive federal review" of the RCMP and its policies on Tasers.

"It should look at whether or not . . . the culture of the RCMP is broken and whether or not it is in need of a major overhaul," Dosanjh said in an interview.

"And if it is, what are the recommendations for that overhaul."

The inquiry resumes on Sept. 22.

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