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Sunday, September 20, 2009

RCMP brass to explain explosive email that stalled Dziekanski inquiry

September 20, 2009
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The public inquiry into Robert Dziekanski's death was supposed to be long over by now, and the report into what happened on that tragic October night in 2007 nearing completion.

But that timeline was shattered three months ago when a previously unreleased email cast into doubt the testimony of the four RCMP officers who stunned Dziekanski with a Taser at Vancouver's airport and amplified allegations of a coverup.

The hearings resume on Tuesday with testimony from senior Mounties at the centre of that email exchange, which raised questions about whether the four officers involved in the fatal confrontation with Dziekanski arrived at the airport already planning to use a Taser.

The four officers have testified that they never uttered a word - not about the Taser or anything else - as they left their detachment to respond to a report of an agitated man throwing furniture.

The contradiction, which emerged as closing arguments were set to begin earlier this year, prompted inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood to reluctantly put the hearings on hold and scold the RCMP for failing to disclose the email sooner.

"We never had full access to the file, we just didn't, so that's been one of the issues," said the inquiry's lawyer, Art Vertlieb.

"I was critical back in June because that email, we should have had. The more important thing is we've got it and we're going to deal with it."

In the email from November 2007, Chief Supt. Dick Bent and RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre were discussing media strategy for releasing the now-infamous amateur video of the officers stunning Dziekanski several times with a Taser.

Bent told Macintyre that the officers decided while on the way to the airport that they might use the Taser - information Bent said he received from Supt. Wayne Rideout, who was in charge of investigating Dziekanski's death.

Bent, Macintyre and Rideout are all scheduled to testify this week. The four RCMP officers who were at the airport have already appeared before the inquiry, and are not scheduled to appear again.

"The RCMP have produced 18,000 pages of documents in the last while, and there is not a single shred of evidence to support the assertion made in Chief Bent's email," said David Butcher, who represents Const. Bill Bentley.

Crown prosecutors have decided not to charge Bentley, Const. Gerry Rundel, Const. Kwesi Millington and Cpl. Benjamin (Monty) Robinson in Dziekanski's death.

However, there have been calls for prosecutors to reconsider, and the officers' testimony in the spring was marked by repeated suggestions they were trying to cover up what really happened.

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, said the controversial email raised serious questions that won't be easily explained away.

"Based on the assessment of evidence I've seen to date, I haven't seen much else, the only thing that has to be explained is why does a person who is in command write that kind of an email," said Kosteckyj.

"When I take a look at how quickly it (the Taser) was used, I have a hard time believing that it wasn't discussed."

Kosteckyj said he'll consider asking the inquiry to call back the four officers if he thinks there are still questions for them to answer.

Also absent from the hearing room this week will be Helen Roberts, the federal government lawyer who told the inquiry about the email and tearfully apologized to the commissioner in June, saying the omission was an unfortunate oversight.

Roberts has since asked to be reassigned, and she's been replaced by Mitchell Taylor, who has spent the past several months gathering thousands of pages of emails and documents for the commission.

Taylor said many of the new documents contain duplicates and include items that federal government lawyers didn't think would be relevant.

"In the first go, it was felt that relevant documents were being produced, and a lot were produced," he said.

"It can happen that things fall between the cracks, and we don't excuse this. It would have been better if the Bent email had gone out before, but it was simple inadvertence."

There were other documents in the new batch that the commission clearly found relevant.

Three other witnesses unrelated to the email - an airport employee, a translator and an RCMP official - will also testify this week.

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