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Saturday, December 12, 2009

EDITORIAL: A final jolt for RCMP reform

December 12, 2009
The Toronto Star

The Mounties got their man, all right, when they subdued Robert Dziekanski in a fatal melee at Vancouver airport on Oct. 14, 2007. But not in a way that reflects credit on the once-proud police force.

The four Mounties didn't approach the agitated Polish traveller with a "measured, coordinated and appropriate response," says Paul Kennedy, the outgoing head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police public complaints commission, who released a deeply troubling report on the Dziekanski case this week. They made "no meaningful attempt to de-escalate the situation." They issued no warning. Their use of a stun gun was "premature" and "not appropriate." So were the multiple jolts they gave him. They didn't give adequate medical care. He died.

Disturbingly, Kennedy also found the officers' accounts of the event to be unreliable, full of "considerable and significant discrepancies" when compared to a bystander's video record.

And he faulted the RCMP for feeding the media incorrect information on the case, then failing to correct "known errors" (that put the Mounties in a good light and Dziekanski in a poor light) while improperly holding onto the video that would have disclosed the truth.

In short, Kennedy's report is a blistering indictment of RCMP blundering, lack of credibility and media manipulation.

And RCMP Commissioner William Elliott's response was as predictable as it was inadequate. He complained that Kennedy's decision to release his report was not "appropriate," and he won't comment until Justice Thomas Braidwood's broader British Columbia provincial inquiry issues its findings next year. Meanwhile, three of the four officers are in court trying to prevent Braidwood from making findings of misconduct against them.

This is just the latest bad press for an iconic institution. The RCMP has been flailed for bungling the Air India investigation, putting Maher Arar's life at risk, misusing stun guns, punishing whistleblowers, feuding with security services, and mismanaging its pension fund.

Bottom line? Kennedy's findings should spur Prime Minister Stephen Harper to bring in long-promised but never-delivered reforms.

There's no shortage of proposals for bolstering oversight. Justice Dennis O'Connor, of Arar fame, called for an Independent Complaints and National Security Review Agency. David Brown, who headed a task force for Harper, called for an Independent Commission for Complaints and Oversight. Either would be an improvement.

For his part, Kennedy wants Dziekanski-type cases – deaths, serious injuries or sex assaults – referred to an independent civilian agency such as Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, or to other police forces.

Whatever course Harper adopts, he ought to ensure that the Mounties no longer investigate themselves. That should be a given. Anything less would betray Robert Dziekanski, and the public trust.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Murder charges ought to be filed. There is too much misuse of tasers by police everywhere. The man didn't even speak English!