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Friday, April 02, 2010

Two years and wads of cash later, the RCMP finally gets it

April 2, 2010
Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

Zofia Cisowski dabbed away tears, her voice cracked and, with a few heartfelt words, she accepted the RCMP's second mea culpa for its role in the death of her son, Robert Dziekanski.

It was the first good news the Mounties have received since 2007 when images of the 40-year-old Polish immigrant's death agonies flashed around the globe, sparking international outrage.

"This is a more personal apology and makes me feel better," she said, adding that the last two-and-a-half years have been an interminable nightmare.

"I think I will sleep better from today. I have to look forward. I'm not angry now that it's over and I feel much better today."

The undisclosed cash settlement, which may total millions, forestalled a civil suit against the force and others.

"I need to take care of myself," Cisowski told a packed media conference Thursday, Mountie Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass sitting sombrely at her side. "I have to close this chapter [of my life.]"

Moments earlier, the top RCMP officer in the province had turned to her in front of a battery of media cameras and said, "Your son arrived from Poland eager to begin a new life here in Canada. We are deeply sorry he did not have that opportunity."

Disoriented after a lengthy flight and frustrated from 10 hours of fruitlessly trying to find his waiting mother, Dziekanski was Tasered five times by four RCMP officers on Oct. 14, 2007.

He died writhing on the floor of the Vancouver airport's international arrivals area.

B.C. Solicitor-General Kash Heed and the Canada Border Services Agency also provided letters expressing their regret.

Cisowski's lawyer Walter Kosteckyj doubted there would have been a settlement without the incendiary video recording that gave lie to the version of events provided by the officers. He said the amount was secret to protect his client's privacy.

In her brief statement, Cisowski said the joint media conference represented an important step toward restoring public confidence and faith in the national law-enforcement agency.

"It has been two-and-a-half years since my son died at Vancouver airport," she said in halting English. "There was not a single day that I did not cry and analyse what could be done to avoid this tragedy."

Her health collapsed, she said, and she battled insomnia: "I had so much stress, disappointment, now I'd like to take care of me."

The force had apologized before -- RCMP Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney offered an initial apology last May at a Senate committee hearing in Ottawa. He said the force was "very sorry" but stopped short of admitting the officers made a mistake dealing with Dziekanski.

At the time, Cisowski was unmoved.

Since then, the public inquiry conducted by former justice Thomas Braidwood, whose final report is to be delivered May 31, has established the four officers mishandled the distraught Dziekanski and sought to cover up their misconduct.

Testimony at the inquiry triggered widespread criticism of the force and its response to the tragedy.

The RCMP sought a deal on the civil suit before Braidwood's final report is delivered unquestionably because he may make findings of wrongdoing. Such conclusions would have given Cisowski a slam-dunk win in the litigation.

Nevertheless, the compensation she has received clearly acted as balm for her wounds since she no longer wants to see the officers criminally charged.

"That doesn't help me at all," she said, adding that she would, however, like to see the four Mounties suffer job consequences.

The force refuses to discuss what will happen; Bass said it will respond when Braidwood's report is released.

The RCMP has made many changes since Dziekanski's death and has supported calls for an independent police watchdog to investigate cases of in-custody deaths or other serious officer-involved incidents.

"We hope that the actions we've taken to date, along with the civil suit settlement announced today, mark the beginning of the healing process for Mrs. Cisowski, the RCMP and the public," Bass said.

"While none of our organization's changes, apologies and civil settlement can bring Robert back, it is our sincere hope that what we've learned from his death will help prevent future tragedies from occurring."

For once, it sounded like the Horsemen get it -- even if it did take two-and-a-half years and a pile of taxpayers' cash.

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