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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mountie's note-taking criticized in taser incident

September 24, 2009
Ian Bailey, Globe and Mail

The senior Mountie among four involved in a fatal confrontation with Robert Dziekanski was yesterday criticized by his supervisor for taking substandard notes recording events around the incident.

Staff Sergeant Doug Wright, the number-two officer in the RCMP's airport detachment, told the Braidwood inquiry he urged Corporal Benjamin Robinson to take “excellent notes” about the Oct. 14, 2007, confrontation at Vancouver Airport between police and the 40-year-old Polish immigrant.

Staff Sgt. Wright said he gave the corporal the advice in an early morning conversation in which Cpl. Robinson told his boss what had happened when the officers used a taser on Mr. Dziekanski.

But the staff sergeant indicated on the stand yesterday that he was not impressed with the corporal's work.

He was asked by Don Rosenbloom, a lawyer representing the government of Poland, whether he thought Cpl. Robinson had taken “excellent notes” up to his own standards.

“They weren't up to my standard,” he said. “Were they up to his? I'm not sure.”

Mr. Rosenbloom asked if the staff sergeant would not have expected extensive notes from officers involved in what was essentially an in-custody death.

“The officers have a duty to report. I would have expected there would have been more notes than what were there,” he said, indicating, in response to another question, that he had not had a chance to review the notes of the other three officers.

Staff Sgt. Wright also said that he permitted the four officers to work together for several weeks after the incident in spite of a protocol barring them from discussing the incident among themselves, saying that it was not deemed to be necessary to separate them.

The staff sergeant, the last witness to testify, was sent on his way with a cheery, “That seems to be everyone. Thank you very much,” from inquiry head Thomas Braidwood.

Closing arguments are to be presented starting Oct. 5.

Mr. Rosenbloom later expressed concerns about the notes issue.

“One would have thought that where there's an in-custody death, police officers would be writing extensive notes about what transpired, if only to protect their own interests, and indeed to protect the public interests, and frankly when you look at the notes of the officers in connection with this matter, there's mighty little to feed on,” he told reporters.

“I felt in this case, the notes that are now exhibits before these proceedings fall so short of the standard every citizen would expect of our police in Canada.”

Police went to the airport, responding to reports that a man in the international arrivals section was acting erratically.

Mr. Dziekanski, a 40-year-old labourer who had come to Canada to start a new life with his mother in Kamloops, was stunned five times with a taser after he picked up a stapler in what the officers deemed to be a threatening action.

Mr. Dziekanski died of cardiac arrest that has not, specifically, been linked to the use of the taser.

One key issue has been the failure of authorities to communicate with Mr. Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish.

The inquiry also heard yesterday from a Spanish-language interpreter who was on duty at the airport and suggested to authorities that they summon a Polish-language interpreter to help Mr. Dziekanski.

However, it turned out the only one available was in Ontario, and had asked not be contacted for jobs of less than two hours.

Gracie Churchill-Browne noted that border officials were otherwise genuinely trying to help Mr. Dziekanski, who appeared exhausted after his long flight to Canada, although not to the point where she felt it necessary to seek medical aid for him.

One official, she said, expressed surprise that Mr. Dziekanski was still around because his family had returned to Kamloops.

Ms. Churchill-Browne said she told another border officer she hoped Mr. Dziekanski would stay at the airport because he did not seem in a fit state to leave.

“She said, ‘Oh. He's a big boy,'” she recalled.

Mr. Dziekanski's mother said she found the issue of translation appalling, particularly because she accessed a translator within 20 minutes of her arrival in Canada 10 years ago.

“Why not at this moment, 2007? I am so disappointed,” she said. “If he had a translator, [he] would be alive today.”

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