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Monday, June 22, 2009

Taser probe's pace blamed for oversight of crucial e-mail

June 22, 2009

VANCOUVER and OTTAWA — The federal Justice Department is partly blaming "the pace" of the inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski for its failure to turn over an e-mail that suggests four Mounties involved in the confrontation with the Polish immigrant were not telling the truth about their plans to taser him.

"The mistake was due to the volume of work and documents, the number of witnesses and the pace of the inquiry, counsel did not appreciate the fact that the CD-ROM contained documents relevant to the commission's request," Federal Justice spokesman Christian Girouard said yesterday. However, the issue of pacing was not disclosed last week when one of the Crown's lawyers tearfully apologized for the error that has derailed the proceedings.

The inquiry, headed by Thomas Braidwood, was established by the B.C. attorney-general in February, 2008. There have been more than 58 days of hearings from January, 2009, to June, and 86 witnesses.

Mr. Girouard declined to address questions raised by his written statement, forwarded to The Globe and Mail in response to a request for comment on last week's surprising developments at the inquiry.

But the concern about the inquiry's "pace" was scoffed at by the lawyer representing the Polish government. "It's preposterous to suggest that the inquiry is moving too swiftly for the government and RCMP to give full document production," Don Rosenbloom said in an interview. "This phase of the inquiry is now more than five months in duration. The government of Canada has had notice this inquiry would be conducted for over one year."

The provincial probe, which was supposed to hear final submissions from lawyers this week, has been postponed for three months as parties try to figure out how to deal with the disclosure of the e-mail between two senior Mounties.

The Mounties involved in the Oct. 14, 2007, confrontation with Mr. Dziekanski at the international arrivals terminal of Vancouver airport have previously testified they arrived on the scene without any plan for dealing with the 40-year-old labourer, who had attracted police attention by acting erratically after being lost in the airport for hours.

But on Tuesday, federal lawyers turned over the e-mail from RCMP Chief Superintendent Dick Bent to Assistant Commissioner Al McIntyre in which Mr. Bent says another superintendent, Wayne Rideout, told him the officers had discussed using the stun gun while travelling to the airport terminal.

Mr. Dziekanski was tasered five times, and cuffed by police. He died of a cardiac arrest. His death has prompted a continuing debate about the police use of tasers.

Commission counsel Art Vertlieb said pacing has never been an issue in the inquiry. "No one else has complained about the pace," he said. "It's moved along because the commissioner recognizes the importance of it."

He said the issue here is that the RCMP did not flag the document for the Justice Department. "The pace would be no issue if the document had been pointed out months and months ago," he said.

Instead, the inquiry has heard that federal lawyers representing the RCMP overlooked the e-mail among material on a CD-ROM provided by Mounties in April. The lawyers did not access the material until last week.

Federal lawyer Helen Roberts tearfully apologized for the omission on Friday, but did not mention the pace of the proceedings as a concern. "Any concerns about document production properly lie with counsel," she told Mr. Braidwood, who said he was "obviously appalled" at the situation.

Mr. Girouard said the government of Canada apologizes for failing to provide the documents and "continues to fully support the work of the Braidwood Commission of Inquiry."

The omission has raised a number of issues for the inquiry, which now faces the prospect of recalling the four officers as well as the other Mounties in the loop on that e-mail for further hearings, which could extend the inquiry for weeks.

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