Facts, while not officially reported, have been firmly established at the Braidwood Inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s 2007 death. Clearly, as an organization, the RCMP failed to act with care and probity from the beginning of the incident. In fact, the police force’s failure of integrity continues today.
RCMP senior managers, overly tolerant of wrongdoing and falsehood, have broken public trust. Additionally, we learned that prosecutors, relying on the flawed RCMP investigation of itself, erred naively when they excluded charges in the homicide. Criminal negligence causing death and obstruction of justice likely occurred.
The Braidwood Inquiry listened as independent medical experts described mechanisms of death from conducted energy weapons. Vancouver cardiology specialist Dr. Charles Kerr stated “there is a very high probability that the multiple Taser applications were instrumental in the development of malignant ventricular arrhythmias and death.”
Dr. Zian Tseng, a San Francisco cardiologist and electrophysiologist, testified that conducted energy weapons pose potentially fatal heart risks by inducing cardiac arrhythmia. He said any normal, healthy person could die if the shock was given in the right area of the chest and during the vulnerable point in the beating of the heart. He said the number of jolts a person receives increases the likelihood of serious health consequences.
Dr. Tseng told the Inquiry he began investigating Tasers in 2005 and after making his research public, he was approached by Taser International. The company asked him to reconsider his public comments and offered to support research by giving him grant funding. Tseng refused. However, the Braidwood Inquiry did hear from a number of witnesses more closely associated with Taser. Oddly, they generally disagreed with the independent experts.
Three junior police constables were led to YVR by a member who a previous commanding officer had recommended for termination. Instead, the force’s senior staff promoted and transferred Monty Robinson from Merritt to Richmond, apparently disregarding his personal and professional issues. Less than 12 months after Dziekanski’s death, the Merritt Staff Sergeant who favored dismissal was proven correct again when Robinson, in a DUI related collision, killed young motorcyclist Orion Hutchinson.
Police actions at the airport were indefensible from the beginning. Arriving without a plan, four officers behaved like cowboys, jumping over the handrail, rushing to confront the subject within seconds. Maybe they were trying to impress the dozen or so airport operations and security staff who stood watching nearby. The first RCMP efforts could have been quiet and calming but instead, they applied severe force almost immediately, with no effort to evaluate, deescalate or give warning beforehand. Outrageously, after injuring the man, they provided no first aid and refused to remove handcuffs so firefighters could put the comatose body in proper recovery position for emergency treatment.
The Taser was activated for 31 seconds, fired 5 times at a man downed by the first shot. Perhaps the weapon toting constable panicked during this, his first operational use of the device. The victim’s involuntary muscle spasms were considered aggressive response by his attackers, justifying even more forceful treatment. Almost a year and a half later, each policeman testified he would do nothing different today. Sadly, each of these characters remains in the RCMP although Robinson is suspended with pay following last year’s DUI incident.
One arguably could blame Dziekanski’s death on poor training and bad judgment in a stressful time. But, the RCMP’s action during the past 20 months has been a calculated effort to evade responsibility and harm the victim’s memory and his survivors. For that we can blame the entire hierarchy, from the media spokesmen who gave out false information, to the use of force instructors and other trainers who, despite contrary evidence, defended death-causing violence and to the Commissioner who telephoned the killers to assure them of complete support. We must also condemn IHIT investigators who made no serious effort to uncover truth. Most of all, Superintendent Wayne Rideout and his superiors earn disapprobation for managing this long, failed cover-up.
Police psychologist Mike Webster had his lengthy relationship with the RCMP terminated after he publicly blamed Mounties for using excessive force, even saying that he was embarrassed by the force’s willingness to use Tasers with so little regard for the risks. In an effort to further punish Webster for his opinions, RCMP lawyer Ravi Hira tried to attack him personally and professionally at the Braidwood Inquiry, suggesting that Webster’s status as a behavioral expert should be discounted.
RCMP misdeeds continued to the last days of the Braidwood Inquiry public hearings. Police brass approved extra funding to hire video specialist Grant Fredericks for one last gasp of evasion. Fredericks was promptly eviscerated by lawyer Donald Rosenbloom and more qualified responding witnesses. Hiring Fredericks at the last minute came at the same time a FOI action by CBC disclosed RCMP spent almost $60,000 traveling to Poland to seek information they hoped would discredit the dead man.
Remember too that the top Mountie, Commissioner William Elliott in Ottawa, told Parliament that rules for Taser use had been tightened. When the public got to read the revised written instructions, the force instead had eased rules by removing warnings to avoid multiple applications of conducted energy weapons.
When tested, the RCMP lied at the lowest levels and lied at the highest levels. This is unacceptable to ethical Canadians who expect honorable behavior from the national police force. About four hundred deaths have been associated with Taser use in North America. How many more will die before the rules of use are severely restricted?
Lawyers Walter Kosteckyj and Donald Rosenbloom deserve thanks for their persistence and willingness to act in this case on behalf of the mother and the Government of Poland. Apparently, Kosteckyj started even with no assurance of payment. Each of these men showed dogged determination and I believe they made truth available to the Commissioner and the observing public.