Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dziekanski: Canada Border Services Agency report disturbing; Conservative Minister Stockwell Day ducks questions; Poland launches own inquiry

“Mr. Dziekanski spoke little or no English and a Polish interpreter was not readily available.”
– Canada Border Services Agency, Nov. 26, 2007

“All officers who interacted with the traveller did not observe, in their opinion, behaviour which would raise any concerns.”
– Canada Border Services Agency, Nov. 26, 2007
If anything the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Nov. 26 report into its interaction with Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski the night he died on Oct. 14 at Vancouver International Airport confirms one thing – that Dziekanski successfully cleared two customs posts without incident and was not a threat to anyone.

The report also confirms that Dziekanski could not speak English and that no translator was available. The report does not say whether the CBSA tried to find one.

Media reaction to the CBSA report was harsh.

In Border agency admits it failed Dziekanski (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 27, 2007) it was reported that CBSA president Alain Jolicoeur apologized for not finding Dziekanski sooner saying the system failed him because “he was allowed to wander for six hours in a secure baggage area controlled by the CBSA before he made his way to a secondary customs area.”

“I’m very, very sorry and I really wish we would have found out about Mr. Dziekanski before, but it’s a difficult thing to do,” Jolicoeur told a packed news conference.

The article notes that “Dziekanski had the cellphone number of his mother, who was waiting for him in a public area. A CBSA official said there are pay phones in the area where Dziekanski was wandering, but no free phones for use by people without Canadian coins.”

At 11:15 p.m., a CBSA officer paged the public waiting area of the airport to see if any of Dziekanski’s relatives were waiting for him. There was no response.

A reporter suggested to [Pacific region director-general of the CBSA Blake] Delgaty that Dziekanski’s mother left the airport because she was told her son wasn’t there, so questioned why the CBSA would page family members.

“There was an assumption on our part that he wasn’t there,” Delgaty replied. “Finding someone in that area was virtually impossible.”

Despite the evening’s fatal outcome “Jolicoeur said no one had been disciplined or reprimanded over the incident because CBSA officials at the airport followed normal operating procedures -- the same procedures used to handle 96 million people a year who arrive at Canadian borders.”

In A little light on Dziekanski case (Toronto Star, Nov. 28, 2007) the Toronto Star editorial board said the CBSA report “which exposes miscommunications, poor oversight and inadequate services for non-English speakers like Dziekanski, is a tale of indifference and ineptitude.”

“But whatever the agency’s lapses the night Dziekanski died, the real issue remains the conduct of the RCMP officers who used a Taser on a man who, while agitated, appeared to pose no immediate threat. That will be for the various probes launched into Dziekanski’s death to assess, including a public inquiry ordered by the B.C. government.”

In Border services and airport have to change attitudes and procedures (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 27, 2007) the Vancouver Sun editorial board said “Dziekanski did not die as a result of a systemic failure. His death is the result of human indifference. Procedures can easily be refined and improved. Changing a culture of bureaucratic apathy is more difficult.”

The board went on to say:

“The vast majority of people coming to Canada have legitimate reasons for doing so. They are entitled to respect and courtesy at all of the country's entry points. Too often they are met with surliness and hostility. In Dziekanski’s case, no one cared enough for an individual, who was obviously lost and confused, to take an interest in him. It is unbelievable that no CBSA staff passed through the baggage area in more than six hours. Someone must have seen him and just didn’t give a damn. Similarly, the pleas for help from his increasingly distraught mother were met with officious offhandedness.

“When YVR president Larry Berg was asked why his staff offered no assistance, he explained that the area is under the control of CBSA.

“We deliberately stay out of that area,” he said. “The rule between the Airport Authority and the Canada Border Services Agency is that we do not communicate in there directly with passengers.”

“Despite that rule, it might have taken a YVR employee a few minutes to reach a CBSA officer to help Cisowski find her son. No one could be bothered. A simple act of human kindness would have prevented this tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Conservative Minister Stockwell Day was busy trying to avoid answering questions on the matter.

In Day mum on CBSA liability (Globe and Mail, Nov. 28, 2007) “Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day dodged questions yesterday about whether he agreed with the Canada Border Services Agency’s conclusion that it was not at fault in the events that led to the death of Robert Dziekanski after the RCMP tasered him at the Vancouver airport.

“Mr. Day spoke briefly with reporters after appearing before a Commons committee yesterday, but remained silent and walked away when reporters repeatedly asked if he agreed that the CBSA was not at fault.”

The Toronto Star report was similar:

In Day ducks comment on border agency’s actions (Toronto Star, Nov. 28, 2007) “The Conservative government refused yesterday to comment on a report on the actions of federal border agents in the death of Robert Dziekanski, who was shot by a Taser gun six weeks ago in the Vancouver airport.

“Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, minister responsible for the Canada Border Services Agency, dodged direct answers to questions from MPs in the Commons and later from reporters about the agency’s report on Monday that exonerated its staff in the man’s death.”

Apart from the border agency’s report into Dziekanski’s death, there are nine other reports expected either into the incident or the use of Tasers:

– The police investigation into Dziekanski's death by B.C.’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (which includes officers from the RCMP and several municipal police forces).

– The Vancouver Airport Authority’s review, to be released Dec. 7.

– The RCMP’s internal review of its Taser policies and procedures.

– The B.C. coroner’s inquest.

– The B.C. government’s public inquiry.

– The federal public safety committee’s inquiry.

– Two reviews by Paul Kennedy, the commissioner for public complaints against the RCMP – one Kennedy initiated into the Dziekanski incident, another requested by Day into the RCMP’s overall use of Tasers.

In addition, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police asked the Canadian Police Research Centre to do more research into the use of Tasers on people experiencing “excited delirium.”

Finally, on Nov. 28 the CanWest News Service reported that Poland was launching its own investigation into Dziekanski’s death.

Poland launches own inquiry into Dziekanski death (CanWest News Service, Nov. 28, 2007) notes:

“The aim of the investigation is to verify whether (Canadian police) exceeded their authority and involuntarily caused the death of a Polish citizen,” said Michal Szulczynski, spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office in the southwestern Polish city of Gliwice, Dziekanski’s hometown.

“The Polish criminal code allows for an investigation in cases which have taken place abroad but which involve a Polish citizen,” Szulczynski said Wednesday. “Foreign nationals can be prosecuted in such cases.”

Polish authorities say they just want to get to the bottom of what happened, and “are not going to wait for the results of the Canadian investigation,” said Szulczynski.

“For the moment, it’s a question of clarifying the circumstances and causes of Robert Dziekanski’s death, but we can’t rule out that in a later phase the investigation could lead to the indictment of Canadian officials,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the Polish Embassy said the Polish investigation should not be taken as an indication that the country doesn’t have confidence in the Canadian inquiries. Sylwia Domisiewicz said, as a matter of course, Poland initiates an investigation whenever a Polish citizen dies in another country.

“We do have trust in your authorities, you have a perfect legal system and it’s a democratic country,” Domisiewicz said in an interview. She added that she didn't think the investigation would have any effect on diplomatic relations.

“We do not have the feeling that it will affect our political relations, it’s just a criminal affair and it’s just a matter of a Polish citizen who died in the territory of Canada and legal authorities from both countries are interested in that,” she said.


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