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Friday, December 11, 2009

EDITORIAL: Meting out Mountie punishment

December 11, 2009
The National Post

Three weeks ago, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott announced he would be asking Parliament for amendments to the RCMP Act that would permit him to punish rotten-apple officers faster -- even to drum them out of the force. Now, based on the findings of Paul Kennedy, the outgoing chairman of the commission for public complaints for the RCMP, Mr. Elliott has a glaring example of just the sort of officers who need swift discipline, perhaps even dismissal: the quartet of Mounties whose mishandling of Polish visitor Robert Dziekanski led to his death at Vancouver International airport two years ago. Yet the Commissioner is remaining stonily silent. If he wants new powers, he should show that he will be prepared to use them by exercising all the tools he currently has to punish these four.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kennedy released a scathing attack on the officers and their chaotic, unprofessional conduct. Mr. Kennedy agreed that based on what they had been told by dispatchers, the four Mounties called out to Vancouver International on Oct. 14, 2007, were correct to approach Mr. Dziekanski urgently. Beyond that decision, though, Mr. Kennedy found they did nearly everything wrong.

They had devised no plan in advance for dealing with the highly agitated traveller. No one officer took charge; each acted independently and in ways that conflicted with the others' actions. No Mountie sought to defuse the situation verbally before aggressively and physically confronting Mr. Dziekanski. No effort was made to determine what language he was shouting nor to find a translator. No warning was issued before the first Taser discharge.

In other words, according to Mr. Kennedy's findings, no efforts were made to defuse the situation.

Then Mounties Tasered Mr. Dziekanski not once or twice, but five times. They compounded this by failing to follow proper procedure that dictates they remove a suspect's handcuffs should he lose consciousness and require medical attention.

Then after the incident, Mr. Kennedy found, the four tried to cover up their misconduct by concocting reports about how they feared for their lives when Mr. Dziekanski lunged at them with a stapler.

There will be plenty more blame to go around, we suspect, once Justice Thomas Braidwood concludes his official inquiry into the incident sometime next year. For instance, Mr. Kennedy writes that senior officers gave false information to the media in the days following the incident, information they knew to be untrue, in a possible effort to help cover up what had gone on.

Instead of acting where the need for discipline seems obvious, though, Mr. Elliott is hiding behind the ongoing legal process to avoid meting out punishment. As columnist Lorne Gunter says elsewhere on this page, if Mr. Elliott were serious about restoring the Mounties' image, he would fire or suspend the four immediately and let them sue or grieve if they don't like it.

If Mr. Elliott is unwilling to take bold action based on the unambiguous findings of Mr. Kennedy, we're not sure what good it will do to have Parliament give him more disciplinary powers.

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