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Friday, April 02, 2010

EDITORIAL: RCMP apology falls short

April 2, 2010
Edmonton Journal

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass offered an apology Thursday to Zofia Cisowski, the mother of Robert Dziekanski.

"On behalf of the RCMP, I want to apologize for our role in the tragic death of your son. Your son arrived from Poland eager to begin a new life here in Canada. We are deeply sorry he did not have that opportunity."

Considering the ramifications of this dark chapter in contemporary Canadian history, it should have been Commissioner William Elliot who made that statement. You have to wonder what pressing matters impelled the leader of the force to download public responsibility to an underling for one of the blackest marks ever chalked up against our national police force. But then, Canadians have become used to being disappointed in an institution that has suffered numerous setbacks in recent years at its own hands.

The apology should have been extended to all Canadians, especially those who have doggedly fought to reveal the truth. Paul Pritchard, who digitally captured Dziekanski and the police on his video camera deserves a special vote of thanks for sterling and indispensable citizen involvement.

On a recent visit to Edmonton, Elliot opined that the Mounties' "transformation strategy" is working. Let's hope whatever that might actually mean includes never again repeating the sorry events of the Dziekanski affair, which has left a man dead and a nation embarrassed internationally. Throughout the 2½ years since the 40-year-old immigrant lost his life after being Tasered five times by RCMP officers, those who have questioned the force have been systematically tarred as little short of unpatriotic. Now we know who was right and who was wrong. In addition to the RCMP mea culpa, letters of apology were also tendered by the B.C. solicitor general and the Canada Border Services Agency, organizations that also bear a degree of responsibility for their respective actions and stonewalling activities.

In tandem with the apology was a civil financial settlement tendered to Ms. Cisowski by the federal government -- which means taxpayers have paid materially for this nonsense. Bass said Thursday that he hopes the apology and money "marks the beginning of the healing process for Mrs. Cisowski, the RCMP and the public. It is critically important that the public has confidence in the police if they are to be able to work collaboratively to ensure public safety. We hope that the steps announced today will work toward this goal."

That's a wish that all of us might share. For her part, Cisowski was nothing short of gracious in her appearance at the same Richmond, B.C., news conference. "There was not a single day I did not cry and analyze what could have been done to avoid this tragedy," she said before losing it to her emotions. The RCMP will contribute $20,000 for a scholarship in Dziekanski's name at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops -- "my son's legacy," she calls it, adding it will be part of her healing process.

Canadians can take some comfort in affirming that, in the end, the system delivered a measure of justice, if over a long, rocky and less than edifying process. Lives cannot be returned, however, and the true measure of the awful Dziekanski affair will be whether lessons -- from Taser use to personal accountability and professionalism -- will be learned. For many of us, the horrific 11 hours spent by Robert Dziekanski in the Vancouver airport will remain an indelible stain on the good name of Canada for years to come. A man and his family were badly let down, and we won't forget easily, nor should we.

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