December 9, 2009
Brian Hutchinson, National Post
Paul Kennedy wanted more oversight powers. Instead, he's getting pink-slipped. But the chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP seems determined to leave office with a bang, and a bite.
Yesterday, in one of his last major acts as the country's federally appointed RCMP watchdog -- his contract was not renewed and he's out of a job at year's end-- Mr. Kennedy offered a bruising assessment of the way four Mounties handled Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007.
To no one's surprise, the CPC chairman found fault with the four officers and with the subsequent RCMP investigation of the Dziekanski fatality.
But Mr. Kennedy went much further than expected, using yesterday's news conference in Vancouver to take some well-aimed verbal shots at stagnant RCMP culture, especially its notorious, self-destructive resistance to change. It is a "massively inert" organization, he said, and that must not stand.
He also used the opportunity to castigate RCMP Commissioner William Elliott.
They have not seen eye to eye on several issues, including Mr. Kennedy's previous, bleak assessments of internal police investigations and his request for more oversight powers; that has gone nowhere.
Yesterday, Mr. Kennedy called out Commissioner Elliott for not responding to his Dziekanski report. "It has not impressed me at all," he told reporters. Mr. Elliott's intentional disregard for his work is "bizarre to the extreme."
A slim but detailed executive summary of his 208-page report was made public in Vancouver yesterday. Mr. Elliott received the full document six weeks ago. He was invited to respond to it. He has chosen not to, for reasons that Mr. Kennedy said are unacceptable.
His report describes how Mr. Dziekanski died at the airport immediately after receiving five Taser shots to his body and being wrestled with on the ground by the four officers.
The incident was captured on video by an airport passerby, Paul Pritchard, and its release brought international condemnation and shamed the Mounties.
A subsequent public inquiry into the matter led by retired judge Thomas Braidwood has only sharpened criticism of the RCMP.
Mr. Kennedy reminded reporters yesterday that the CPC took the matter seriously; in fact, he had his own people in Vancouver examining the Dziekanski fatality within 24 hours of the incident.
Based on dispatch information the four officers were given, Mr. Kennedy writes, "the decision to approach Mr. Dziekanski to deal with the complaints was not unreasonable." Unfortunately, just about everything that followed at the airport was. The senior Mountie in charge, Corporal Benjamin "Monty" Robinson, failed to take control of the situation and the result was chaotic, Mr. Kennedy writes.
Each officer who approached Mr. Dziekanski responded to him differently, "because there was no direction," he told reporters yesterday. One officer circled; one flexed his baton; one gave the befuddled Mr. Dziekanski directions by pointing his finger; one, of course, pointed his Taser and fired.
Constable Kwesi Millington should have issued a required warning before deploying his Taser, Mr. Kennedy concluded in his report.
"No significant attempts were made to communicate with Mr. Dziekanski," he said. The multiple cycles of the Taser on Mr. Dziekanski were inappropriate. And the four officers "demonstrated no meaningful attempt to de-escalate the situation, nor did they approach the situation with a measured, coordinated and appropriate response."
The Taser was used too quickly, he concluded.
Furthermore, writes Mr. Kennedy, the handcuffs used on Mr. Dziekanski should have been removed as soon as the officers determined that he had lost consciousness and was in distress.
He rejected the officers' credibility. "I do not accept as accurate any of the versions of events as presented by the involved members because I find considerable and significant discrepancies in the detail and accuracy of the recollections of the members when compared against the otherwise uncontroverted video evidence."
Their notes of the incident were inadequate, he found.
Mr. Kennedy went on to suggest that the RCMP-led fatality investigation was compromised because Cpl. Robinson was allowed to attend an investigators' briefing within hours of Mr. Dziekanski's death. Moreover, the four officers should not have met "alone at the YVR [airport] sub-detachment office following the death of Mr. Dziekanski."
In all, Mr. Kennedy made 23 findings of fact, and 16 recommendations that seem to make sense. He wishes they were acted on, now.
Mr. Kennedy invited the RCMP brass in October to respond to his findings and recommendations; specifically, he asked Commissioner Elliott to share his opinion of the report. He would not.
In a letter written to Mr. Kennedy last week -- which Mr. Kennedy copied and handed to reporters yesterday -- Commissioner Elliott says, "it would not be appropriate, in our view, to provide you with our response prior to receiving the final [Braidwood] report of the inquiry."
Of course, Mr. Braidwood is not expected to deliver his final report until March 2010, at the earliest.
By then, Mr. Kennedy will be long gone from the RCMP Complaints Commission; however, should anyone wish to discuss with him his turbulent four-year run as complaints chairman, he promises to be available. And to be "as outspoken and as candid as possible."
FROM THE REPORT
Selected quotes from Paul Kennedy's report on the death of Robert Dziekanski.
"I do not accept the version of events as presented by the four responding RCMP members. The fact that the members met together prior to providing statements causes me to further question their versions of events."
"I have noted that none of the members stopped to meaningfully obtain details or confirm from witnesses present the information received via police radio with respect to the nature of Mr. Dziekanski's actions (such as the allegation that Mr. Dziekanski had thrown furniture through a window -- which was later found not to be true -- or the degree of violence involved)."
"According to witness statements and the statements of the responding members, prior to the arrival of fire and ambulance personnel, Mr. Dziekanski was turning blue. That Mr. Dziekanski was in distress should have been increasingly obvious to the attending members."
"I noted a number of examples in which the information provided to the media was incorrect, and known to be so by the RCMP. The RCMP, however, decided not to correct those known errors."
Compiled by Phillipa Croome, National Post
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
December 9, 2009