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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dziekanski death sparked RCMP image 'crisis'

June 23, 2010
The Canadian Press

Internal documents released by the RCMP reveal the "public relations crisis" the Mounties faced following the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport.

The documents, released by the force Wednesday after an access to information request, highlight negative reaction from media and members of the public following a report by former RCMP complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy last December.

In that report, Kennedy said the actions of the four officers involved in Dziekanski's death were "inappropriate" and their subsequent explanations not credible.

Following Kennedy's report, RCMP Insp. Tim Shields authored an internal document that said the force's lack of response and criticism of the complaints commissioner for releasing the report at all did not sit well with the public.

"The RCMP response to the media has resulted in a further magnification of the public relations crisis the RCMP currently faces in relation to the incident," Shields wrote.

"This was demonstrated not only by scathing headlines but also by emails sent from the public to the [RCMP] E Division website account, as well as comments from the public posted on media websites and talk radio."

The six-page internal document features an email from one member of the public who says while they are "normally a supporter of the RCMP," the force's conduct has left them "ashamed" and "embarrassed."

"I am sorry to say that the RCMP have lost my loyalty and support and now need to do a lot more to regain it," the email reads.

The internal document also features a number of media accounts that are critical of the force's response, or lack thereof, to Kennedy's report and to the Dziekanski case in general.

The RCMP also released photocopies Wednesday of a media communications workshop held for members of the force.

Admit mistakes

Among the slides is one titled: "Public image of police. Should we care?" The slide examines policing by consent and solving crimes with help from the public.

Another slide says RCMP media relations officers must admit mistakes. That line is the only one in the presentation capped with an exclamation point.

RCMP spokesmen handling the Dziekanski case admitted at a public inquiry into his death that they made mistakes when issuing information to members of the media and didn't immediately correct them.

A report from that public inquiry was released last week and found the four RCMP officers who confronted Dziekanski used too much force when they stunned him several times with a Taser and then lied about what happened.

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott held a lengthy news conference to discuss the matter hours after the report was released.

He said there have been many changes since Dziekanski's death, including policy shifts to ensure officers are warned there is a risk of death with conducted energy weapons such as Tasers and an emphasis on using the least amount of force necessary.

The report by former B.C. judge Thomas Braidwood prompted the B.C. government to appoint a special prosecutor to reconsider criminal charges against the four Mounties.

The province's Criminal Justice Branch said in December 2008 that the officers acted reasonably in the circumstances and wouldn't be charged.

Dziekanski's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year against the RCMP and others, but settled the case in April after receiving a public apology from the force and an undisclosed financial settlement.

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