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Thursday, June 17, 2010

RCMP's apology grudging, evasive

June 17, 2010
Suzanne Fournier, The Province

Two top Mounties show unwillingness to accept blame for Dziekanski death By Suzanne Fournier, The Province June 17, 2010 1:11 AM As Zofia Cisowski anxiously awaits the Braidwood Inquiry's final report on her son's death, she is "angry" that RCMP emails reveal the Mounties didn't intend to apologize for their role in her son's death.

And even the Prime Minister's Office has weighed in, saying: "We find the emails disturbing.

"We're disappointed to learn of the emails. The apology was very important to the Dziekanski family and particularly to his mother," said Stephen Harper's press secretary Sara MacIntyre.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass publicly apologized to Zofia Dziekanski's mother for the Mounties' role in his death after he was Tasered.

But yesterday, a raft of internal RCMP emails was released through an Access to Information Act request showing that the April 1 apology was a carefully-crafted script designed not to blame any RCMP member.

On the day before the staging of the apology, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass reassured RCMP staff relations supervisor Brian Roach that their "apology" to Cisowski did not mean they were apologizing for anything specific that any of their officers had done.

"Essentially, even though the word "apology" worries some, we are not apologizing for the actions of specific members or saying anything about specific actions.

"I am apologizing for the loss of her son, and where the Cmmr (RCMP Commissioner Bill Elliott) says we could have done better, from my perspective that relates to the fact we had to revise our policy and training."

Cisowski said yesterday "this just shows that the RCMP even when they apologize to me, they coverup. They want to apologize, but they don't lay charges against the four RCMP and they're still working, nothing happens to them."

She said she was distraught at the time she accepted the RCMP apology and undisclosed financial compensation in settlement of her planned civil suit against the RCMP, border and airport officials.

"I hope justice will prevail," she said.

Former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Tom Braidwood will release his report Friday into Dziekanski's death. He died after being repeatedly Tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007.

The emails reveal dozens of drafts of the RCMP "apology," including a suggestion that RCMP top brass should appear alongside Cisowski for the statement and "seal it with a hand shake/respectful embrace."

But the emails also reveal two key paragraphs that were axed from Bass's public "apology."

"Robert's death is a tragedy and for the role the Force played in this tragedy, we have offered Ms. Cisowski our sincere apology," was cut.

So was: "There are no words to express how sorry the RCMP is about your son's death and the pain this has brought."

Cisowski's lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj, said yesterday: "I welcome the attention of the PMO to this matter, finally. My client was pursuing civil litigation against three federal bodies but the position of the federal government never was made clear."

Kosteckyj said that Cisowski is bound by law not to discuss the terms of her financial compensation.

The thorough investigation into Dziekanski's death by the Braidwood inquiry made a civil suit by Cisowski unnecessary, said Kosteckyj.

The RCMP paper trail involved federal Justice senior lawyer Mitch Taylor, as well as union representatives of the four Mounties involved and Insp. Tim Shields, head of "strategic communications."

Shields yesterday defended the apology.

"I was with Gary Bass before the [April 1] news conference and I can say the apology was very heartfelt and it was sincere."

Shields added: "A public apology coming from the government of Canada is examined in excruciating detail by lawyers who are extremely mindful of civil litigation and attentive to mitigating potential litigation that arises from an apology."

Kosteckyj agreed that the text of the RCMP apology was provided beforehand to Cisowski, who also provided a statement of what she would say on April 1.

Shields said he hopes the public understands that the RCMP paper trail reveals that "Department of Justice lawyers have a different mandate than those of us in communications."

Cisowski said she agreed to drop her civil suit against the Mounties for her son's death in exchange for the financial settlement and a Kamloops university scholarship in Robert's name.

Dziekanski, 40, was emigrating from Poland on Oct. 14, 2007, to Canada to start a new life. He became distraught after wandering the Vancouver airport for hours.

Four RCMP officers responding to a 911 call at the airport Tasered Dziekanski within a minute of meeting him, and restrained him face down.

He was dead by the time first-responders got to the airport.

The RCMP has since made changes to its Taser and public-complaints policies.

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