Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dziekanski:Premier Gordon Campbell apologizes then complains about tourism dollars; RCMP offers sympathy but no apology; airport says changes coming

Robert Dziekanski died on Oct. 14 but it was not until after a video of the disturbing event was made public on Nov. 14 that an apology of any kind appeared to be forthcoming.

It took thirty-six days but someone has finally apologized for Dziekanski’s brutal death at the hands of the RCMP at the Vancouver International Airport. But how sincere is it?

In Premier apologizes on behalf of B.C. for Dziekanski incident (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 19, 2007) BC Premier Gordon Campbell apologized to the family and friends of Taser victim Robert Dziekanski for the incident that took his life.

“It’s not anything that anyone would have ever expected to happen in the province and I'm sure the RCMP would be glad to apologize,” Campbell told reporters Monday in Vancouver. “So I’m glad to apologize on behalf of people in British Columbia for what took place.”

Campbell warned against any kind of public backlash against the RCMP because of the Taser incident.

“I certainly understand people’s frustration but I think we have to recognize that we ask all of our police forces - independent and RCMP police forces - to put themselves in harm's way every single day on our behalf,” he said.

This is despite the fact that the RCMP, airport staff, immigration officials and the public appeared to be in no immediate danger the night Dziekanski died. By all accounts the Polish-immigrant, who was a foreigner and could not speak English, threatened no one during his 10 hour ordeal at the airport.

Any level of sincerity Campbell’s apology may have had was dampened when his comments turned to money and the incident’s possible effect on tourism.

Campbell said he’s concerned about the potential impact the Taser incident could have on the $10-billion B.C. tourism industry, which is trying to double its revenues over the next decade.

“We always have to be concerned any time something goes wrong, goes awry,” he said. “But I think we still have a great province. It’s still a place people want to come to from around the world and we'll continue to work to make sure people recognize how safe and secure (B.C. is) and what a great place it is to visit.”

As for its role in Dziekanski’s death the RCMP have not yet apologized.

According to B.C. launches public inquiry into Taser incident (CTV News, Nov. 19, 2007) “[o]ver the weekend, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott issued a written statement in which he offered the RCMP’s sympathy and condolences to the Dziekanski family. Elliott also defended the use of Tasers, saying “... deploying a Taser is often the fastest and safest way to gain control of an individual. We and other police services teach our officers that it is less likely to cause serious injury than other tactics.”

The article also notes that “[d]espite the controversy surrounding the use of Tasers against Dziekanski, the Vancouver Police Department has ordered 70 more of the devices. That means all 110 officers trained to use the weapon can have one.”

No word yet on why the four officers involved in Dziekanski’s death, who knew that he didn’t speak English, and in an act that appeared to be pre-determined, barged in and without asking onlookers any questions or assessing the situation, within thirty seconds zapped the unarmed man at least twice, who up until that point apparently had not harmed or threatened anyone, then pounced on him, held him down until unconscious then stood around and did nothing until the paramedics arrived.

On Nov. 18 the Canadian Press reported that “[t]hree out of four suspects stun-gunned by the RCMP were unarmed, indicates a review of 563 cases that shows Tasers are often used for compliance rather than to defuse major threats.”

According to Most people hit with RCMP Tasers unarmed: reports (CTV News, Nov. 18, 2007) a “Canadian Press analysis of Taser incidents reported by the Mounties reveals that more than 79 per cent of those zapped were not brandishing a weapon.

“In just over one-fifth of cases, the suspect had a knife, bottle, club or other weapon.

“The figures, compiled from hundreds of partially censored pages filed by RCMP officers, highlight police preference for the 50,000-volt tool that helps them control dangerous situations with usually minimal injury.

“But they also suggest a pattern of use by the Mounties as a quick means to keep relatively low-risk prisoners, drunks and unruly suspects in line.”

The article also noted that: “The 606 incidents analyzed by The Canadian Press took place between March 2002 and March 2005, the latest data available from the RCMP under the Access to Information Act. (In 43 cases, officers removed a Taser from its holster but did not fire.)

“Most incidents by far were recorded in western Canada where the RCMP leads front-line policing. Many involved First Nations.

“A request for more recent reports of Taser use has gone unanswered by the Mounties for more than a year despite a complaint to the federal information commissioner.”

A disturbing video of that incident, shot by Paul Pritchard of Victoria, continues to raise troubling questions about a police decision to use force against a man who seemed to be threatening no one.

In Video stirs troubling questions on tasers (Globe and Mail, Nov. 16, 2007) Neil Boyd, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University who has studied the use of tasers by police, says he has never seen anything like it in his career. And he doubts police will be able to justify what they did.

“Unless there’s some remarkable explanation, it would seem to be a use of force that was inappropriate to the circumstances,” said Mr. Boyd, who believes that tasers are a reasonable option in many scenarios.

“I think we could all imagine circumstances in which the police officer is not directly threatened and yet the use of a taser may be appropriate. I think that that would be a fairly small number of circumstances, however.”

He said that faced with a hardened criminal, for example, police might well be justified in using a taser even if the suspect wasn’t threatening officers, but was simply backing away from them.

“I’m trained to think that there’s always another side and perhaps we haven’t heard the other side. So I do want to issue that caveat. It's going to be important to hear from the police.

“But on the face of it, it’s difficult to see why that particular approach was taken, as opposed to a range of other approaches that would have required much less force, given the number of police officers involved and what the person was actually doing, or at least appeared to be doing,” he said.

Prof. Boyd said there should be a national inquiry into the use of tasers by police that should examine not only the lethality of the weapon itself, but also the procedures that guide officers in using force.

Yesterday also brought news that the province would launch a full public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death.

Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister John Les made the announcement in the legislature.

Les flip-flops on apology to man’s mom (Vancouver Province, Nov. 20, 2007) called it an “an embarrassing reversal” noting that late last week “Les refused calls for a public inquiry into the death…And as late as yesterday afternoon, Les refused to offer an apology for the incident.”

In B.C. announces public inquiry into Taser death (Toronto Star, Nov. 19, 2007) B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal said the government was forced to launch its inquiry because of a “vacuum of information” from authorities.

“I think it's safe to say that we were waiting for some kind of appropriate answer from the authorities and nothing was forthcoming at all,” Oppal said.

“We thought someone might step up and offer an explanation about what happened. You think of the repercussions here and the public deserves answers.”

Oppal didn't single out any one agency.

“It’s all the parties who were involved. What about the airport authorities and what about everyone else? There was a huge vacuum of information there.”

The same article reveals that the Vancouver Airport Authority will announce changes by mid-December to its security, customer and language services as a result of the incident.

Paul Levy, the airport authority’s operations vice-president said its review has already turned up procedures that need changing, such as customer service, language and paging services in the secure customs area, and security and camera coverage.

Zofia Cisowski had told her son they would rendezvous in the baggage carousel area, unaware it was in the secure part of the arrivals area and airport staff could not page him there.

No one at customs could find him either and she returned to Kamloops alone.

It would appear that Levy’s announcement confirms and validates the many criticisms that have been leveled against the airport authority since the video of Dziekanski’s death was made public. It would be interesting to know whether these changes, or Campbell’s apology, would still been made had the video not existed.

Not everyone though is convinced that a provincial inquiry is the best way to proceed.

The article B.C. apologizes, sets public probe into taser case (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 20, 2007) notes:

In Ottawa, federal Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh applauded B.C.’s inquiry, though he said he thinks the matter would be better handled at the national level.

“This matter is crying out for federal leadership,” Dosanjh said in an interview from Ottawa, calling on the federal government to immediately commence a formal independent review of Taser use.

“It was in the hands of the [Canadian Border Service Agency] to deal with customs, and in the hands of immigration to deal with the immigration clearance,” he said, adding both are federal agencies.

“The federal government should feel embarrassed and ashamed that B.C. is actually doing this,” Dosanjh said.

Federal NDP leader Jack Layton joined the federal Liberals in a call for a national review. Layton has also called on the Canada Border Services Agency to break its silence on the case.

“This is a time when explanation and transparency, not defensiveness and secrecy, is fundamental,” Layton said earlier in Vancouver. “I think that answers are required as quickly as possible.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday his government did not want to interfere in ongoing inquiries, including a homicide investigation by police and a coroner’s review.

“We will be following those inquiries and also looking at what other options and what other actions may be necessary in this case,” Harper said.
According to the article the Canada Border Services Agency officials could not be reached for comment. Naturally.


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