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Friday, October 16, 2009

Forgive mistakes, don't excuse lies

October 16, 2009
Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

Bullies and liars should be drummed out of the RCMP and other police departments. That should be former justice Thomas Braidwood's No. 1 recommendation.

Now that he has retired to write the final report of his public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, the commissioner must deal with the ugly picture that has emerged.

The four heavily armed Mounties overreacted with a probably illegal amount of force when they Tasered and manhandled the tired and confused 40-year-old Polish immigrant exactly two years ago Wednesday in Vancouver International Airport.

The evidence of the last year's hearings establishes that after Dziekanski died, the officers misconstrued what happened in an effort to limit their culpability and forestall potential criminal charges.

Their memories, notes and testimony are belied by the now famous amateur video by Paul Pritchard that captured Dziekanski's agonizing final moments. It is Canada's Rodney King moment, a continuing viral YouTube j'accuse.

Rather than circling the wagons as they have, the national police force should remember Oct. 14 as a day of infamy.

Maybe the first Taser shot can be justified; maybe even the second, which was administered while Dziekanski was writhing on the floor screaming in blood-curdling agony. But the third?

The fourth?

How about the fifth?

Watching those burly Kevlar-vested officers standing over Dziekanski's motionless body wondering what to do next, it was difficult to believe it could get worse.

But it did.

Using too much force to subdue a suspect is one thing. Refusing to remove handcuffs to facilitate medical aid for an unconscious man turning blue is downright criminal.

Rather than own their behaviour, the four officers went on to massage their recollections and craft misleading statements.

The response of their organization was not much better.

No one in the RCMP can be proud of how this was handled -- and the new commissioner didn't do any better by seemingly defending these four clowns with his walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes comment.

This kind of brutal, unthinking and deceitful behaviour cannot be tolerated. There should be no place for such men or women in a modern police force.

Yet we see it too often, not just in this tragedy.

Look at the recent case in Burns Lake where the Mounties roughed up a suspect without cause, dragged their feet on disclosure and delivered testimony the judge dismissed as beyond belief.

Or consider the latest civil finding against two Vancouver Police Department officers who smashed a sober 47-year-old civic worker's face into the ground and then falsely claimed he had been belligerent and drunk.

Of course, there's the outrageous case of the Mountie who committed perjury testifying about why he shot dead unarmed 29-year-old Kevin St. Arnaud in Vanderhoof.

These are unfortunately but a few of what are many instances in recent years of police officers overstepping the bounds and then trying to cover up their misconduct.

It's clearly time for Braidwood to state the obvious.

Whatever else he recommends early next year when he delivers his report, the commissioner should emphasize that cops can be forgiven mistakes but they cannot be excused for unleashing unwarranted violence and lying about it.

We must be able to trust police and have faith in them to use good judgment before force. That seems self-evident, but it manifestly needs to be said.

And those that don't get it need to be quickly shown the door.

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