Any person with reasonable observation skills knew early on that four RCMP officers erred badly when they attacked and repeatedly tasered a distraught traveler. Robert Dziekanski was unarmed, compliant, non-threatening and dead on the floor. The Pritchard video – that one RCMP tried to hide – proved the victim was dealt with improperly. One former senior police officer told me “there would have been no story without the Pritchard video. It would have gone away quickly.”
Ordinary folks could have led police management easily through the steps required next. That would have started with objective examination and honest gathering of facts, followed by accurate reporting. Instead, the RCMP went immediately into cover-your-ass mode. In Justice Braidwood’s words:
“. . . the RCMP’s public disclosures about the Dziekanski incident, during the early stages of the criminal investigation, were factually inaccurate. When the RCMP became aware of these inaccuracies, they decided not to correct them . . .
. . . They were consistently self-serving — they painted Mr. Dziekanski in an unfairly negative, and the officers in an unfairly positive, light.”
. . . The inaccuracies include the following: that Mr. Dziekanski was combative and violent, that chairs were flying, that violence was escalating, that the conducted energy weapon was deployed against him only twice, and that he continued to be combative, kicking and screaming after being handcuffed. Based on what the investigation subsequently determined, these descriptions were inaccurate and without question they portrayed Mr. Dziekanski’s behaviours as more threatening and dangerous than we now know them to have been.
Unfortunately, the casual treatment of truth in initial reporting was similar in the RCMP’s internal investigation. They chose to consider their members faultless and the examination was aimed at supporting that conclusion.
Police actively sought information with which they could defame the victim and spent tens of thousands on sending a crew to Poland looking for negative information in Dziekanski’s life. When they didn’t find anything significant, they implied otherwise in statements leaked to the media. Braidwood says there were suspicions that inaccurate information was released deliberately to cast the officers’ conduct in a more favorable light.
It is not difficult to go beyond Braidwood’s judicious language and suspect that the entire investigation by the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team was aimed deliberately at casting the officer’s conduct in a more favorable light. That has been common to all examinations of police involved deaths. As a result, not one officer in British Columbia has ever been held responsible in a criminal court for wrongful death.
Braidwood did an admirable job despite terms of reference that crippled his work, intensive lobbying by countless lawyers and concerted court attacks funded both by the public and Taser International. One senses that, despite 470 pages in his final report, the Inquiry Commissioner exercised great restraint and could have said much about the perversity of RCMP officers at the highest level.
|D/C Gary Bass|
Even this week, documents obtained under Freedom of Information demonstrate that Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass was insincere in making the RCMP’s public apology to Zofia Cisowski, mother of the dead man. Internal e-mails prove that, whatever the quasi-apology was for, it was not intended to be about the RCMP role in Dziekanski’s death. The Prime Minister’s office, which had stayed quiet about this sad affair, issued a statement saying the internal police messages were “disturbing.” As I’ve written here repeatedly, the RCMP brass have been unable to do anything correctly in dealing with this file. Given their demonstrated incompetence, it is no wonder that a majority of ordinary members prefer union representation for protection of their interests.
Police integrity remains soiled as commanders at the highest level, after almost three years, have taken no disciplinary action for what, without reservation, Braidwood calls ‘shameful conduct.’ Commissioner Elliott now admits that too much time has passed to allow discipline of the four officers. Police will never restore public confidence until the current senior officers, including William Elliott, Gary Bass and those around them, are removed. Their replacements should be individuals who honor the public trust more than loyalty to a dysfunctional police force.
Now that Justice Braidwood has completed his task, the ball returns to the discredited offices of the Criminal Justice Branch. Attorney General Mike de Jong today appointed Richard Peck as Special Prosecutor to reconsider prosecutions of the four RCMP officers involved in Dziekanski’s death. Well known lawyer Richard Peck recently issued a controversial report absolving a former Ontario Attorney General of fault in the vehicular death of a cyclist. A special prosecutor in the death of Dziekanski is unneeded. Thomas Braidwood, a highly respected man with long experience in criminal justice, has already spoken. His carefully considered report makes clear that charges should be laid. Already, there has been sufficient time since Braidwood delivered his final report to government. The prosecution should be underway at this moment.