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.

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Former CFIB director Dale Botting lands key role in Saskatchewan Party government

If Enterprise Saskatchewan had little credibility before the provincial election it appears to have even less now.

On November 27, 2007, in a blatant nod to business, the new Saskatchewan Party government announced that Dale Botting, the former Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) Vice President of Western Canada, will serve as the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation and will lead the “design-build” phase of the establishment of Enterprise Saskatchewan.

Lyle Stewart, the MLA for Thunder Creek, was named Minister of Enterprise and Innovation on Nov. 21.

In Enterprise Saskatchewan would privatize department: SFL (StarPhoenix, Nov. 1, 2007) party leader Brad Wall named the CFIB, the alleged non-partisan business lobby group with whom his party is closely aligned, as one of the business groups that could be asked to be involved in Enterprise Saskatchewan.

So in essence the CFIB could very well have a representative on the Enterprise Saskatchewan board making recommendations to someone in government it has deep ties with who will be responsible for designing and implementing the scheme.

You’d think things couldn’t get much better than that for business – but it does.

In his “economic vision” The Promise of Saskatchewan, Wall said regional economic development authorities would also be represented on the board (Page 83 in the Sask. Party Policy Book). As luck would have it Botting was once the CEO of the Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority.

In Enterprise Sask. gets a face (StarPhoenix, Nov. 28, 2007) Botting told business editor Murray Lyons that he wants “to see if we can go beyond a narrow silo approach to a more co-operative and collaborative approach.”

How he intends to achieve this is unclear since Wall was adamant in a speech to the North Saskatoon Business Association on Dec. 8, 2005, that “Non-negotiable and foundational to the terms of reference given to Enterprise Saskatchewan will be changes to labour legislation.” The same goes for the “implementation of the Vicq report recommendations on small business exemptions, corporate income and the very insidious corporate capital tax” and “the end of government picking winners and losers in the economy.”

“These initiatives are non-negotiable and are hard wired right into Enterprise Saskatchewan. Legislative changes where necessary will be readied for the first Legislative session,” said Wall.

In fact, a good deal of Wall’s Enterprise Saskatchewan comes with a pre-determined outcome and little in the way of transparency.

The CFIB generally despise unions and labour laws. It is against minimum wage hikes and supports new workers being paid less than the minimum during probation periods. The organization has called for deep cuts to Workers’ Compensation and the privatization of Crown corporations. It is also tireless in its quest for tax cuts, tax cuts and more tax cuts. It wants less government and less government spending. As for social programs its many reports over the years seem to mention only health and education.

Botting is no stranger to these issues.

In Corporate tax holidays priority for SREDA (StarPhoenix, Dec. 20, 2001) Botting pushed for “five to 10-year holiday on corporate income tax (CIT) for new businesses and expansions” and “proposed the formation of a capitalization company (CAPCO) program, a fund for large corporations to invest in and derive tax breaks.”

In Keep Crown corporations in public hands: gov’t report (StarPhoenix, Oct. 18, 1996) Botting said that “Selling Crowns may be the only way Saskatchewan will ever get out from under its debt and be able to offer tax relief.”

His comments echoed those made during the July 1995 provincial election when he said the media missed a prime opportunity to discuss the restructuring of government.

The article A long, uncertain road to recovery: Boyd's Tories must advance a hard-line philosophy if they ever hope to retake Saskatchewan (Western Report, Vol. 10, Issue 24; July 3, 1995) notes:
“It’s time to talk about privatizing the crown corporations,” he says, “but there was little debate on that either.” Mr. Botting says emerging technology will soon render SaskTel relatively worthless. “We ought to sell it while it still has some value,” he says. And he also refers to “dog crowns”--perennial money losers such as the Saskatchewan Transportation Company--which he believes could be made profitable if turned over to the private sector.
Enterprise Saskatchewan is designed to remove barriers to growth. The province’s Crown corporations and their policies have been identified as “non-tax barriers.” Furthermore, the Saskatchewan Party supports keeping only the four major Crown utilities publicly owned but continues to deny this even though its policy book states otherwise.

In CFIB wants workers’ compensation cut (StarPhoenix, Sept. 24, 1996) the lobby group said that “The Workers Compensation Board should reduce benefits and consider partial privatization to help prevent future “rate shock.”

According to the article Botting said “Partial privatization could also help reduce rates by bringing down administration costs if certain management functions are contracted out.”

The CFIB recommended “that benefits drop from 90 per cent of net income to 75 per cent for the first 39 weeks, and 80 per cent thereafter.”

“It creates a difficulty to get people motivated to go back to work,” said Botting.

The CFIB were vehemently against amendments to the Labour Standards Act requiring companies to pay benefits to permanent part-time employees.

“This is without precedent in Canada and in North America,” said Botting.

“We are not able to afford such unbelievably unprecedented kinds of reforms.” [Saskatchewan part-timers to get all benefits (The Province, March 13, 1994)]

Employment Insurance hasn’t escaped the CFIB’s wrath either.

In Businessman wants dropouts cut off UIC (Edmonton Journal, March 28, 1991) Botting reportedly told a symposium that “Unemployment insurance benefits should be withheld from Canadians under 24 who have not completed high school.”

He complained that business is forced to handle education’s failures.

It seems clear that the Wall government intends to let Enterprise Saskatchewan be designed and run by business for business. On this count it will be picking winners and losers – something the party has consistently said it wants to avoid.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Leader Brad Wall's comments on Crown corporations contradict the party's policy book

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Nov. 21, 2007 edition of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix:

Key aspects of Wall's policy ignored in Burton's column

The StarPhoenix

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In The writing was on the wall (SP, Nov. 8), columnist Randy Burton criticized the NDP's use of "negative politics" and said the party had sunk "exceedingly low on the ethical scale" trying to find an effective campaign weapon against Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall.

About Crown corporations, Burton said it didn't seem to matter that Wall's party voted in favour of NDP Leader Lorne Calvert's legislation "outlawing privatization" or that Wall has "denied repeatedly" that his party would privatize anything.

However, what Burton doesn't acknowledge is that Wall's comments completely contradict the Saskatchewan Party's policy book. It clearly notes that the party's support for The Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act extends only to the four major utilities: SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy and SGI.

Furthermore, Wall's shadowy Enterprise Saskatchewan scheme is designed "to identify and remove barriers to growth." His plan conveniently pre-determines Crown corporations and their policies as "non-tax barriers." That could mean not even the major Crowns are completely off-limits.

In an October 2004 article for Investment Executive, a national newspaper for financial service industry professionals, Regina Leader-Post financial editor Bruce Johnstone described it best: "Under Wall's 'bold new vision,' a Saskatchewan Party government would cede control of economic decision making to Enterprise Saskatchewan, a joint government/private-sector body that would assume the economic development functions of government," he wrote.

"Instead of bureaucrats or politicians, Enterprise Saskatchewan's independent board of directors would make the big decisions about such issues as key economic sectors, the barriers to growth, taxes to cut, businesses to attract, and investments to make. In essence, Wall would privatize the economic decision making functions of government to this new body."

Burton didn't mention these important facts.

Joe Kuchta

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dziekanski: Polish-speaking airport worker not asked to help, fired a month later; Airport firefighters not called to respond

The revelations surrounding the harrowing night of Oct. 14 when Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after being Tasered at least twice by RCMP at Vancouver International Airport keep piling up.

The National Post is reporting that a Polish-speaking airport worker was on duty the night of Dziekanski’s death but was not asked to help.

The article Polish-speaking airport worker wasn’t asked to help (National Post, Nov. 19, 2007) alleges that “Slovakian immigrant Karol Vrba was in the room on Oct. 14 when the pair of calls came in reporting Mr. Dziekanski’s erratic behaviour, but was never asked to help, even though he is conversant in both Polish and Russian, the language bystanders told authorities the 40-year-old Pole was speaking.”

“I feel really upset because I saw that video of what they did to him and it could have been prevented. Definitely,” he said Monday.

“Mr. Vrba spoke to the National Post because, almost exactly a month after Mr. Dziekanski died, he was fired. He believes it may be because he spoke out about the fact that he could have helped. The airport told him he was “unsuitable for the job,” an employment mark he says will make it nearly impossible for him to find work as a firefighter, a profession he had been training for as part of his airport duties,” the story states.

Michele Mawhinny, vice-president of human resources for the Vancouver Airport Authority, said that due to privacy laws she could not comment on Mr. Vrba’s allegations.

The article also notes:

On the night Mr. Dziekanski died, Mr. Vrba stepped into the airport operations centre to pick up some papers he needed for his duties as an airfield operations specialist. At that moment, he was heading out to note the tail numbers of the planes parked at airport gates for the night. He was there when the calls came in advising of a disturbance in the international arrivals area, but left soon after.

The widely circulated video of Mr. Dziekanski’s death contains at least nine references to “Russian,” including two after the RCMP arrived, when one voice can be heard saying as the officers passed by, “he speaks Russian and that's it. No English.”

Less than a minute later, Mr. Dziekanski, who had thrown a folding chair and a computer before police were called, was hit with a Taser and fell to the ground. He later died.

But Mr. Vrba, who immigrated in 1999 and had worked at the airport since July, was not asked to help, and he said a call did not go out for anyone else who spoke Russian or Polish to help, either. Busy with his work, he did not return to the operations centre until after Mr. Dziekanski had died.

“When I came back I say, ‘what happened? They said there was some Polish guy or Russian guy. I speak Russian, so I say, ‘OK, why didn’t you call me if I could help?’” Mr. Vrba said. He speaks with an obvious East European accent.
Paul Levy, the vice-president of operations with the Vancouver Airport Authority also declined to comment on Mr. Vrba’s allegations, citing privacy laws.

In Airport firefighters not called during Taser incident (National Post, Nov. 20, 2007) it is reported that firefighters at Vancouver’s airport firehall “are angry that they were not called to respond the night Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died, even though they say emergency response protocol dictates they should have been there.”

The article points out that “protocol stipulates the airport firehall should be called in for “Code 3” emergencies. A Code 3 is a lights-and-siren response to a life-threatening situation.”

It goes on to say:
A “routine call” for an ambulance response was placed about the time Mr. Dziekanski was struck with the RCMP Taser, but airport firefighters, who are certified in first aid, do not typically respond to routine medical calls.

But four minutes later, that call was “upgraded” to a Code 3. According to the airport worker, who is close to the firehall, either the airport response co-ordinator -- a man who was at the scene and can be seen on the videotape -- or the province’s emergency communications centre should have immediately dispatched the airport firehall. The firehall’s response time is two minutes.

Neither of them did. Instead, airport vice-president of operations Paul Levy said the decision was made to wait for an ambulance from nearby Richmond, which was already en route. It took 11 minutes to arrive from the initial call and seven minutes from when the call was upgraded to Code 3.

Mr. Levy said it is standard protocol for the airport firehall to respond to Code 3 calls, but would not clarify whether that protocol applies under an “upgraded” scenario.
It is unclear “whether an earlier medical intervention would have saved Mr. Dziekanski’s life.”

The same story reported that during the 1990’s the airport’s operations centre included a list of every airport worker and what foreign language they spoke.

As a follow-up to the earlier story concerning the airport’s former Polish-speaking worker the article states:
The National Post reported yesterday that Karol Vrba, a probationary airfield operations specialist who is conversant in Polish, was in the operations centre when calls came in reporting Mr. Dziekanski’s destructive behaviour. He was not asked to help and has since been fired.

Mr. Levy confirmed that the airport continues to maintain such a list, which is updated at the beginning of each shift and contains information about which customer relations workers are available “and we would know what languages they would speak.”

He did not specify whether Mr. Vrba -- whose job was not as a frontline worker -- would have been on that list, but did say that “there has not been any airport authority staff’s employment impacted by this incident.”

Mr. Vrba has filed a union grievance over his firing, which he suspects is related to statements he made saying he should have been called to help communicate with Mr. Dziekanski, who did not speak English.

His firing has raised questions for Walter Kosteckyj, a Polish-Canadian lawyer who is acting on behalf of Mr. Dziekanski’s mother.

“If the facts as [Mr. Vrba] is presenting them are true, then it shows bad faith on the part of the airport and just seems to be indicative of a larger problem,” he said. “It almost looks like he’s an embarrassing piece to have around, so let’s get rid of him.”

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.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saskatoon StarPhoenix columnist blames victim; supports RCMP actions in brutal Taser death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski

Robert Dziekanski shortly before being Tasered by RCMP

Images from video shot by Paul Pritchard, right

“There was no extreme emergency that caused them to move in that fast and take him into custody. They were able to get quite close to him and he wasn’t being aggressive towards them.”
– Donald Van Blaricom, former chief of the Bellevue police

“I don’t even think batons or mace would have been necessary, given that there were four officers on the scene.

[The police] appeared to take the path of least resistance by deploying the Taser . . . when they could have controlled this gentleman through physical-force techniques that would not have been harmful.”
– Michael Lyman, a criminal justice professor at Columbia College in Missouri

“[T]he RCMP team barged into the room after appearing to discuss and arrive at a prior decision to use the Taser. They surrounded Mr. Dziekanski at a distance safe to themselves, he offered no resistance, and they zapped him anyway.”
National Post, Editorial, Nov. 16, 2007

“At no point does Dziekanski appear to be a threat to others, who attempt to help him while they wait for airport security or the police.”
Vancouver Sun, Editorial, Nov. 15, 2007
According to StarPhoenix columnist Les MacPherson, it seems Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski had no one but himself to blame for his violent death at the hands of the RCMP on Oct. 14 at Vancouver International Airport.

“That the rough handling in this case ended in tragedy is not the fault of police,” MacPherson said.

Dziekanski, 40, who could not speak English, arrived at the airport on Oct. 13 where he spent an incredible 10 hours trying to locate his mother, Maria Cisowski, 61, of Kamloops, BC, and by 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 14 was unconscious but breathing after four RCMP officers arrived two minutes earlier and, within 30 seconds, Tasered him at least twice before pinning him to the floor until he lay motionless. A “Code Red” was called in and then the officers stood around and did nothing until paramedics arrived.

CTV British Columbia obtained an airport log that shows a four-minute lag between when Dziekanski lost consciousness and when B.C. ambulance crew members were called, and an almost 15-minute gap between the time he passed out after being tasered, and when the ambulance crew arrived on the scene. [No drugs, alcohol in man who died at airport (CTV News, Oct. 26, 2007)]

For Dziekanski it was his first ever flight.

Cisowski spent more than six hours in the nearby international arrivals lounge trying desperately to persuade anyone at the airport to help her make contact with her son. But nobody did.

Paul Pritchard, 25, of Victoria, BC, caught the disturbing incident on high-quality video.

In Man’s lack of co-operation necessitated force (StarPhoenix, Nov. 17, 2007) MacPherson states:
“What people seem not to realize is that there is no way to subdue a violent, irrational and potentially dangerous suspect that isn’t disturbing.”
Michael Lyman, a criminal justice professor at Columbia College in Missouri, said the decision by the police to subdue Dziekanski with a Taser was “inappropriate” because the four officers present should have been able to physically control him.

After watching the video of Dziekanski’s death, Lyman said the police should have been able to restrain the Polish immigrant using their hands.

“I don't even think batons or mace would have been necessary, given that there were four officers on the scene.”

Lyman said the police “appeared to take the path of least resistance by deploying the Taser . . . when they could have controlled this gentleman through physical-force techniques that would not have been harmful.”

An expert on police procedure who has provided testimony in hundreds of criminal and civil court cases, Lyman said there was no evidence in the video that Dziekanski possessed a dangerous weapon.

“He doesn’t appear to be threatening anybody. But he does appear to be uncooperative and unreasonable.”

Lyman was also concerned about the way one of the officers repeatedly struck what appeared to be a baton on the floor near the prostrate Dziekanski.

“Whether it hit him, I don't know. But I am concerned that he may have been struck with no justification.”

Donald Van Blaricom, former chief of the Bellevue police, said the officers should have made Dziekanski sit up as soon as possible after he was Tasered.

“He’s down on the floor for an awful long time, and it appears that they are holding him down when he is in handcuffs because he is struggling.”

Van Blaricom said the video appears to show a “vicious cycle” in which the more Dziekanski was restrained on the floor, the more he physically resisted, prompting the police to use even more physical force, until he stopped breathing.

“He’s being held face down on his chest and he responds by struggling because he can’t breathe.”

Van Blaricom said that the police don’t seem to realize that he is not breathing until it is too late, “but from a video like this it’s hard to really know what is going on.”

Van Blaricom said Taser-related deaths don’t stem from the electrical voltage carried by the weapon, but from the exhausting physical struggle that follows.

Often the cause of death is cardiac arrest, or asphyxia, when the person being arrested builds up so much lactic acid that he can’t breathe any longer, said Van Blaricom.

“They develop an oxygen deficit that they just can’t overcome.”

Nevertheless, Van Blaricom said the Taser was a reasonable option for the police, given that they couldn’t communicate with him because of the apparent language barrier.

Any attempt to control him physically was risky for the officers and for Dziekanski, he said.

“Once you take a person into custody, you want to do so with the least amount of struggle because physical struggle can lead to injury or death.”

Van Blaricom said people in such a heightened state of distress can often have what police describe as “super-human strength” and are very difficult to subdue physically.

When dealing with this kind of situation, said Van Blaricom, “it’s recommended that you have four or five officers.” When that’s not possible, “the Taser does that for you.”

Van Blaricom faulted the police for opting to use the Taser too quickly. “There was no extreme emergency that caused them to move in that fast and take him into custody,” he said.

“They were able to get quite close to him and he wasn't being aggressive towards them.” [Policing expert says Taser decision ‘inappropriate’ (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 14, 2007)]

In his column MacPherson states:
“What, exactly, would these armchair critics have had the police do?

“Talk to the guy?

“They tried. Police when they approached the man were as non-threatening as they could be. It didn’t work.”
The two individuals seen on Pritchard’s video speaking with Dziekanski just before RCMP arrived were not police. They were security guards.

According to Vancouver airport security system ‘stinks,’ says union (CBC News, Oct. 31, 2007) security at Vancouver International Airport is compromised by low wages and contracting out.

Security staff at the airport have close to a 100 per cent annual turnover rate because of low wages and a lack of job security, said [Ron] Fontaine, a representative of the Grand Lodge for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), and as a result security staff are often inexperienced.

Fontaine said just weeks after the union negotiated its first collective agreement with the Vancouver Airport Authority this past summer, the airport put the security contract out to tender.

“Two weeks from now the lowest bidder is going to get it. And that bidder is going to come and try to reduce the benefits, the wages and various things to agree to the contract they underbid,” said Fontaine.

When the RCMP finally did arrive “[p]eople in the lounge can be heard clearly telling the police Dziekanski speaks no English, only Russian. His mother later said he only spoke Polish.” [Taser video shows RCMP shocked immigrant within 25 seconds of their arrival (CBC News, Nov. 17, 2007)]

Yet, in Robert Dziekanski’s final seconds (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 15, 2007) it was reported that when RCMP first approached Dziekanski one of the officers asked “How are you doing, sir?”

In Taser answers (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 1, 2007) Pritchard, who shot the high-quality videos, told a packed Victoria press conference that the police officer who shocked Dziekanski planned to Taser the Polish immigrant before he even arrived on the scene.

“As they [three police officers] ran in, I heard one of the officers say, ‘Can I Taser him?’ or ‘Should I Taser him’ before they actually got to Mr. Dziekanski,” said Pritchard.

“As soon as they crossed through the doors, within five seconds they kind of flushed him behind the desk and right away they Tasered him,” Pritchard added.

Pritchard said that before anyone arrived, people at the scene called security at least twice, and two people left the area to try to find someone who could help. He said some women also tried to get a translator on an airport phone, but couldn’t because the phone was broken. (The Airport Authority would later dispute this saying the phone was working.)

MacPherson’s editorial colleagues at the Vancouver Sun and National Post are critical of both the RCMP and airport staff.

In Investigations into airport Taser death must ensure tragedies like this are not repeatedVancouver Sun, (Nov. 15, 2007) the Vancouver Sun editorial board state:
“The video confirms much of what Paul Pritchard, a bystander who shot the video after arriving from a trip to China, had claimed all along.

“An agitated Dziekanski is seen looking confused and at various times holding a chair in front of him or over his head. At one point he picks up what appears to be a computer keyboard, and throws it to the ground.

“At no point does Dziekanski appear to be a threat to others, who attempt to help him while they wait for airport security or the police.

“Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers finally arrive and surround Dziekanski, who does not appear to be acting in a threatening manner toward them either. Nevertheless, they quickly Taser Dziekanski, who falls to the ground, is descended upon by the officers and is apparently Tasered again.”
The editorial board further said:
“Dziekanski certainly didn’t seem to present an immediate threat to anyone, least of all the police, who appeared calm when they first surrounded him. But the police seemed possessed of a Taser first and ask questions later mentality, since Dziekanski was shocked before police had time to figure out why he was behaving the way he was.

“We need to know, then, whether RCMP officers are instructed to use their Tasers so quickly when no immediate danger is present, or whether these officers were acting against instructions.

“In fact, we need to ask whether the officers’ conduct, aside from the Tasering, was appropriate at all, since they seemed to do little to ascertain what the problem was before subduing the jetlagged traveller.

“But this is an issue that concerns not just the RCMP. It also concerns Vancouver International Airport staff, who probably could have settled this matter in the first place, thereby eliminating any need for police involvement.

“Specifically, we still don’t know why Dziekanski spent 10 hours in the airport before the tragic events unfolded. But we do know that after waiting some seven hours for her son, and after asking airport staff repeatedly for help in locating him, Zofia Cisowski was told that he was not in the airport. She and a friend then made the long drive back to her home in Kamloops where she received a message to come back to the airport.

“Clearly, had this mistake not been made -- had airport staff worked diligently to connect Dziekanski with his mother -- the police would never have become involved and this death would never have occurred.”
In Blame careless police procedure, abattoir-like airport design and sheer bad luck (National Post, Nov. 16, 2007) the National Post editorial board appear to concur:
“Every police force has written standards governing Taser use and proclaims respect for its hazards. But there is little evidence of such respect in Paul Pritchard’s camera-phone video of Mr. Dziekanski’s arrest.

“In that footage, police officers are seen to arrive and proceed directly to the detention room without asking witnesses about the man’s behaviour or demeanour or monitoring it themselves. Mr. Pritchard could have told them that he had already shown obvious signs of respiratory distress while putting furniture in the path of a self-closing door, perhaps in an effort to get himself more air. Taser International has promoted local police standards which recognize “excited delirium” as a “substantial contributor to deaths of people against whom law enforcement officers have employed” the devices. Yet the RCMP team barged into the room after appearing to discuss and arrive at a prior decision to use the Taser. They surrounded Mr. Dziekanski at a distance safe to themselves, he offered no resistance, and they zapped him anyway.

“The appearance of poor practice here is so strong that the RCMP may face a tough decision whether to defend their members’ actions or to deny that they are, in fact, routine operating procedure. But the debate over the Dziekanski incident should not end with an obsessive analysis of the weapon used against him. The conduct of federal officials in this case is baffling and infuriating. Somehow, despite his total lack of knowledge of English, Mr. Dziekanski was cleared to enter Canada at a Border Services inspection point before straying into baggage claim, within the secure area of the airport, and remaining in various places, unable to communicate with anyone, for 10 hours or more. His mother, who had driven from Kamloops, B.C., and anticipated no difficulty, waited all day to greet her son; she was refused any information about his status and whereabouts and eventually gave up.

“By the time Mr. Dziekanski began to destroy property and implore passersby for help in Polish, the immigration officials seem to have lost track of him entirely. And while an internal investigation by the airport authority quickly exonerated its staff from wrongdoing, one wonders whether it might have occurred to the security officers who summoned the RCMP that a lone, frightened man screaming in Polish might have been of some interest to Border Services or Immigration and Citizenship.

“Fatal accidents, from car crashes to bridge collapses, generally do not have just one cause. A series of things must go awry. The facts of the Dziekanski case point to some combination of security mania, careless police procedure, abattoir-like airport design and sheer bad luck.”
The following day the National Post reported that the four RCMP officers involved in the Taser death appear to have breached recommendations on how the weapon should be used.

Taser Not To Be Used Repeatedly (National Post, Nov. 17, 2007) notes:

“A 2005 report -- The Taser Technology Review Report -- by the B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner listed a number of key safety recommendations for the use of a Taser.

“However, a video of the death of Mr. Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14 suggests they were not followed.

“Chief among the recommendations were that Tasers should not be used against someone who is “passively resisting”; that police should not use the Taser multiple times; and that after a Taser shock, the subject should be restrained in a way that allows him to breathe easily.

“Officers, in dealing with the 40-year-old Polish man, do not appear to have followed the guidelines.

“The report suggests officers approach such a suspect according to a well-thought-out plan.

“Where individuals are contained in a room, officers should use the time to formulate a plan for entry and restraint that allows them to immediately turn the person over to ambulance personnel,” the report says.

“It goes on to emphasize such precautions are necessary, especially if the subject appears to be suffering from a state of excited delirium -- a condition that may be characterized by such behaviour as a person “running through traffic or otherwise placing themselves and others at risk and would have to be restrained in any event.”

“It is not known whether Mr. Dziekanski was suffering from excited delirium.

“The report states that multiple Taser shocks may have a detrimental effect on a person’s pH, carbon dioxide levels and lactate levels.

“Although multiple applications may be tactically required, particularly in remote areas where back-up is distant or unavailable, the risks associated should be included in an officer’s decision-making process,” the report says.

“The video shows Mr. Dziekanski being shocked at least twice.

“The report suggests that officers may jeopardize a suspect’s ability to breathe if a great deal of weight is placed on the shoulders and back for a long period of time.

“The video of Mr. Dziekanski’s death shows him screaming on the ground and being restrained by at least one officer who is over him.”

In his column MacPherson states:
“The suspect, after storming around the airport, smashing up furniture and alarming everyone around him, was now ignoring police instructions.”
On the contrary Dziekanski was not “storming around the airport.” He was in a highly-controlled, secure and restricted area. He was confused, scared, agitated and pacing back and forth. Tests done later showed he had no drugs or alcohol in his system.

The “furniture” he was “smashing” consisted of one small wooden folding table and a computer keyboard. That’s it.

As for “alarming everyone around him” Dziekanski was alone. The video clearly shows this. At one point a woman did approach and speak with Dziekanski but at no time did he threaten her.

When the two security guards appeared Dziekanski he made no threatening gestures toward them either.

Like MacPherson, it appears the RCMP can’t get their story straight.

In What the video shows, what RCMP says happened (National Post, Nov. 16, 2007) it is reported that the events on the video appear to conflict at times with the RCMP’s version of events immediately after the incident.

The article notes:

“Police said: In its original news release on the incident, the RCMP said three police officers were involved in the incident.

“The video shows: What appears to be four men wearing RCMP uniforms approaching Mr. Dziekanski.

“The video shows: Police are told by a bystander that Mr. Dziekanski doesn’t speak English. As he approaches Mr. Dziekanski, an officer asks him, “How are you doing, sir?” The concerns raised: Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, has said his review of the incident will look into whether or not the RCMP followed its own policies on dealing with people who can’t communicate in English, and whether those policies are adequate.

“Police said: The RCMP says the officers did not use pepper spray on Mr. Dziekanski because of the large number of people at the airport. The video shows: Several people are seen observing the incident from the airport’s public lounge. But Mr. Dziekanski and the officers appear to be entirely alone in the secure arrivals area, which is separated from everyone else by Plexiglass.”

In his column MacPherson states:
“For all anyone knew, the suspect was armed and potentially dangerous. Had he suddenly produced a weapon and killed an innocent bystander, say, the same people who today are condemning the officers for using excessive force would instead be condemning them for not using enough force.”
Dziekanski was at the airport for 10 hours. He successfully cleared two customs posts. By all accounts he threatened no one during that time.

MacPherson then appears to blame the victim:
“All the man had to do was co-operate and no one would have been hurt.”
Frankly, all airport staff and immigration officials had to do was help Dziekanski and his mother at some point during the 10 hour this ordeal and no one would have been hurt.

Furthermore, all the RCMP had to do was show some level of interest in assessing the situation, ask questions, use common sense, follow guidelines or find an interpreter and likely no one would have been hurt.

MacPherson then states:
“Why Dziekanski behaved as he did, we may never know. We’ve all found ourselves waiting at one time or another for someone who doesn’t show up, as he apparently was.”
Dziekanski’s mother did show up. She was in a nearby room. She waited more than five hours before being told her son wasn’t at the airport. She went home thinking he’d missed his flight.

Then MacPherson ridiculously says:
“By the time police were called to the scene, he had long since cleared immigration and was free to go. He could have sought out an interpreter. He could have caught a cab, found a hotel room and sorted it all out the next day.”
Dziekanski was a foreigner and did not speak English. This was his first ever flight. He didn’t leave because he was there to meet his mother who had sponsored his coming to Canada.

According to Video of Taser death stirs outrage (Toronto Star, Nov. 16, 2007) Dziekanski “had been told to wait for her and he did, for hours, not realizing she couldn’t get into the secure baggage area.”

In Questions hang over taser death (Globe and Mail, Oct. 26, 2007) it is reported that Dziekanski and his mother “had arranged to meet at the baggage carousel in the international terminal at YVR. What neither of them seemed to know, however, was that the baggage area is inside a secure area just past Canada Customs and Immigration. There is no line of sight into the Arrivals Hall from the public waiting area, except for a short distance through sliding glass doors.”

Dziekanski’s mother, the article notes, “spent nearly six hours pacing the corridors and, in broken English, asking airport officials for help in locating her son.”

Walter Kosteckyj, the mother’s lawyer, said “she visited one booth in international arrivals “at least three to four times and conveyed to them that she was concerned about her son being in the area and she wanted to get a message to him and how could she do that? They wrote her name down and said that they would make inquiries.”

At about 10 p.m., she was told he wasn’t there. She made the long drive home, only to find a phone message waiting, saying her son had been found.

“She called back to immigration when she got in, which would have been around 2 a.m., and spoke to someone there and was advised that her son was somewhere in the area and was fine. And she advised, you know, ‘Please take care of him because he can’t speak English and I’ll get there as soon as I can.’ And of course he had died, been killed really, some time on or about 1 or 1:30,” Mr. Kosteckyj said.

In Mother’s grief, anger overflows (Vancouver Sun, Oct. 26, 2007) Kosteckyi said “communications systems at the airport are dysfunctional, inadequate and staff don’t have the capacity to communicate between different areas of the airport or to page the public in secure area.”

In ‘His scream is brutal. You hear a man die’ (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 15, 2007) Kosteckyj said he was angry the video showed security guards at the airport were disinterested as the tragedy unfolded.

And he can’t understand why police made no attempt to defuse or control the situation before using the Taser.

In RCMP confident about Taser probe (Toronto Star, Nov. 17, 2007) Paul Levy, vice president of operations at the Vancouver airport, said a review is taking place that includes what language services should be provided. A language line is available at the airport that provides translations for up to 120 languages, but it’s unclear how non-English or non-French speakers are aware of the availability of the service.

Why did airport staff, immigration officials or the RCMP not find an interpreter for Mr. Dziekanski?

In a another article, Timeline ‘perplexes’ YVR chief (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 3, 2007) Airport president and chief executive Larry Berg said “no one from the airport authority had contact with Dziekanski during the entire period, adding that for the bulk of the time the Polish immigrant was in the airport he was in areas controlled by CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency].”

In a November 17, 2007, news release RCMP Commissioner William J. S. Elliott said “For the time being, the four RCMP officers directly involved in the events of October 14th, 2007, have been assigned to other duties. The RCMP has also undertaken an examination of our policies and procedure relating to conducted energy weapons, commonly called ‘Tasers’ and will be providing a report to the Minister of Public Safety. We will further consider our policies and procedures in light of the findings and recommendations flowing from the investigations currently under way,” he said. [Four ‘Taser incident’ officers reassigned (Vancouver Sun, Nov. 17, 2007)]

Is the RCMP solely to blame for this tragedy? No.

Does the RCMP deserve to be held responsible for some of what happened? Yes.

MacPherson owes the Dziekanski family a public apology.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Former C.D. Howe Institute president calls plan “potential slush fund”; business groups look to cash in on election promises

It appears the province’s business community will soon be lining up to cash in their markers now that the new Brad Wall-led Saskatchewan Party has formed government.

Immediately following the Nov. 7 election the media dutifully sought out and reported the opinions of business leaders and lobby groups.

In Atchison optimistic about new gov’t (StarPhoenix, Nov. 9, 2007) Mayor Don Atchison said he sees a long list of potential benefits for the city of Saskatoon under the Saskatchewan Party government.

During the election the party promised “to redirect $140 million in proceeds from the privatization of the NewGrade upgrader to municipal roads and highways, along with a pledge to negotiate long-term revenue-sharing deals for municipal governments, starting with an immediate seven per cent increase.”

The list also includes “plans to increase spending on transportation infrastructure” and a “promise to put more police officers on the streets and crack down on gangs.”

That Atchison, a local business owner, seems pleased with the Saskatchewan Party victory is not surprising. During the 2003 provincial election he endorsed Roger Parent the party’s candidate for Saskatoon Centre. A testimonial from Atchison appeared on one of Parent’s campaign brochures along with Don Morgan and Shelley Hengen.

Shirley Ryan, the North Saskatoon Business Association’s executive director shares Atchison’s optimism about the new government.

“We do have, I believe, in the Saskatchewan Party a business-friendly government that will make some changes.”

Ryan said she expects the party’s promise to increase revenue-sharing for cities will be kept, and the province will gain an enhanced reputation as a place that’s “open for business.”

(Oddly, in a December 10, 2004, letter to the Saskatchewan Business Council, Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said that the province has the “reputation as a business-friendly environment.”)

According to the StarPhoenix, Kent Smith-Windsor, executive director of the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, shares the same view of the election results.

As for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Marilyn Braun-Pollon, the lobby group’s vice president of Saskatchewan and agri-business, said they’re “going to watch closely to see that the new government does live up to the promises it has made to small business.”

Small business will be looking for improved highways, more ‘balanced’ labour laws and tax relief from the new Saskatchewan Party government, said Braun-Pollon. [Business groups happy, labour leery (Leader-Post, Nov. 9, 2007)]

That shouldn’t be difficult to deliver. After all, in a March 31, 2004, letter to Braun-Pollon, leader Brad Wall said: “My party has had a very good relationship with your organization through the years and that will absolutely not change under my leadership. The position the CFIB puts forward, for the most, reflect our own.”

Furthermore, the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book states “that a Saskatchewan Party government will ensure Saskatchewan’s income, corporate, property and capital taxes and resource royalty rates are competitive with other provinces and do not create a barrier to increased private sector investment, job creation and economic growth.” The policy book also states that “a Saskatchewan Party government will make Saskatchewan a small business tax free zone” by eliminating the small business tax. The party also considers the PST, fuel taxes and labour laws as barriers to growth.

On the subject of highways party policy states “that a Saskatchewan Party government will commit, as a minimum, all provincial fuel taxes collected to fund provincial and municipal transportation infrastructure construction and renewal in Saskatchewan.”

Lee Harding, the new Saskatchewan director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says that the election of a Saskatchewan Party government should be generally positive for its members.

The article Wall has several issues to discuss (Leader-Post, Nov. 14, 2007) shows that big business hasn’t forgotten about the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA).

Dale Botting, president of the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership, said he hoped Saskatchewan will take a lead “on issues such as lowering interprovincial trade barriers.” The problem, though, is most serious studies conclude that there are few significant obstacles to trade and investment within Canada.

In fact, on April 3, 2007, an Edmonton Journal editorial said there is “little in the way of genuine trade barriers remaining between the two westernmost provinces” and Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said in a news release that Saskatchewan is “the lowest cost jurisdiction…with fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.”

“When it comes to major incentives in terms of hand-outs of forgivable loans (from the federal government), I don’t think there’s a lot of appetite in Western Canada to see a distortional flow of revenue to the automobile sector, say, as a carve-out sector. And I think Mr. Wall is on record also as not being in favour of distortional grants or subsidies as well,” Botting said.

Not to worry. British Columbia’s Minister of Economic Development Colin Hansen has stated that “TILMA is designed to eliminate subsidies.” Not to mention a lot of other things.

In 2006, Wall’s support for TILMA was absolute and unequivocal. On June 28, 2007, he ridiculously flip-flopped saying his party wouldn’t sign the trade deal “in its present form.” Saskatchewan hasn’t seen the last of this controversy.

Not everyone in conservative-land is enamored with the Saskatchewan Party or its leader Brad Wall.

In the op-ed Brad Wall needs braver policy (National Post, Nov. 14, 2007) Jack M. Mintz, a Professor of Business Economics at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, described Saskatchewan’s demographic picture as “bleak” and wondered whether Wall will be a “transformative premier.”

“If the Saskatchewan Party’s platform is any indication, transformation is not on the agenda,” Mintz said.

Mintz, who is also a former President and CEO of the right-wing think tank C. D. Howe Institute, went on to say:
“While the Saskatchewan Party is on the mark with some proposals, several platform policies look like they will do more harm than good. The incoming government seems bent on picking “winning” activities, an industrial policy that fails more than it succeeds.

“The new public-private Enterprise Saskatchewan-- a potential slush fund partly influenced by conflicted private recipients -- will look at barriers to growth, economic development and industry support, with an emphasis on selected “growth” industries, including agriculture, mining, energy and the forestry sector. How forestry became a growth sector is beyond logic, just as it is hard to understand why other industries, such as services, can't play a major role in creating wealth.

“And rather than look at broad tax-reform measures, the new government will play Santa by providing targeted tax support to mining exploration, research and development, as well as provincial sales tax relief for light vehicles and sports and cultural activities for children. The special tax credits might generate some new activity but often at the expense of moving resources from more productive uses.”
Mintz says if Wall “wants to create a legacy for himself, he will need far braver public policies.”

Mintz’s strictly business-friendly suggestions include:

– Reforming labour laws using the Australian approach, particularly “the onerous costs imposed on employers in hiring workers and the strike power of monopoly government agencies and corporations.”

– Selling off Crown corporations to reduce provincial debt.

– Reducing corporate income taxes well below Alberta and cutting personal income tax rates, especially where marginal rates are typically very high.

– Replacing the Saskatchewan retail sales tax with a value-added tax similar to the federal GST.

Surprisingly, the next condemnation of the Saskatchewan Party comes from Alberta.

Lorne Gunter is a senior columnist at the Edmonton Journal, and is also currently the editorial director of the Canadian Centre for Libertarian Studies, a member of the editorial board of and the incoming president of Civitas – a society for conservative and libertarian academics, think-tankers, lobbyists and journalists.

To read Gunter’s column, Wall talked the talk, didn’t walk the walk (Edmonton Journal, Nov. 9, 2007), you’d think Wall and his party had betrayed and sold-out conservatives everywhere.

Gunter says he first met Wall in the fall of 2004. He was in Calgary for a fundraising dinner for his right-wing Saskatchewan Party. The 300-plus guests were “dazzled” by Wall’s “charm and wit and, most of all, his ideology.” He and his organizers went home that night with over $100,000 in their pockets.

“Wall was articulate, intelligent, engaged and engaging. He understood the stimulative power of tax cuts and the economic benefits that come from shrinking the size of government and allowing entrepreneurs to apply innovation to market and social problems.”

Gunter said he was blown away – for about a week.

“But the buzz around Wall and his principled conservatism didn’t last a week,” Gunter said.

“Wall went back home from Calgary and had his caucus vote unanimously in favour of the NDP’s Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act.”

“And nothing has changed in the three years since,” he said.

“It’s too bad, too. Saskatchewan’s Crowns are the elephant in its economic room. They control too much of the economic decision-making and meddle too much in public policy (although usually with the blessing of the government). With more than 11,000 unionized employees, the Crowns are a potent political force. Many families have at least one member who works for a Crown and the province’s all-powerful unions rely on Crown employees for a large chunk of their memberships and dues.”

However, Gunter’s concerns might be premature. Canadian history is littered with broken promises by politicians of all stripes.

Jean Chretien’s Liberals said they’d get rid of the GST, which the despised Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney had introduced, but never did. Gordon Campbell promised not to privatize BC Rail but did just that once elected. Lorne Calvert said his party would hire 200 more police officers but for years came up short. Don Atchison said he’d freeze taxes but every year since being elected mayor of Saskatoon there have been increases. Last but not least is the Harper Conservatives magnificent betrayal of Saskatchewan on equalization.

Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party will surely prove to be no different.

“The Sask. Party Platform document makes it clear that Brad Wall has no business sense and that he will promise anything to anyone in order to get elected,” said Saskatchewan Liberal Leader David Karwacki in an October 22, 2007, news release. He’s probably right.

During the 2007 provincial election the Saskatchewan Party made approximately 124 promises and routinely made statements that contradicted party policy. It’s not a question of whether any of them will be broken, it’s when and which ones.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Regina Leader-Post ignoring details of plan in Sask. Party Policy Book

The following letter to the editor was submitted to the Regina Leader-Post on Friday, November 9, 2007.

Dear Editor:

In his column Sask. Party should be cautious (LP Nov. 8) Leader-Post financial editor Bruce Johnstone said the party’s Enterprise Saskatchewan scheme should not be used “as an excuse to slough off responsibility for decision-making on economic development issues.” Yet that is precisely how it has been designed.

In an October 2004 article he wrote for Investment Executive, a national newspaper for financial service industry professionals, Johnstone said: “Under Wall’s “bold new vision,’’ a Saskatchewan Party government would cede control of economic decision-making to Enterprise Saskatchewan, a joint government/private-sector body that would assume the economic development functions of government. Instead of bureaucrats or politicians, Enterprise Saskatchewan’s independent board of directors would make the big decisions about such issues as key economic sectors, the barriers to growth, taxes to cut, businesses to attract, and investments to make. In essence, Wall would privatize the economic decision-making functions of government to this new body.”

The Saskatchewan Party Policy Book states that Enterprise Saskatchewan is “the foundation for the economic development plan of a Saskatchewan Party government” and will operate “with the full support of the Premier and Executive Council.”

The policy book is also clear that the Saskatchewan Party’s support for The Crown Corporations Public Ownership Act extends only to the four major Crown utilities: SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy and SGI.

Enterprise Saskatchewan will “identify and remove barriers to growth.” However, party policy effectively undermines the plan’s credibility by pre-determining that labour legislation and Crown corporations and their policies are barriers that must be addressed. It would seem that even the major Crowns might not be completely immune.

In his March 2, 2006, Saskatoon Leaders Dinner speech Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said Enterprise Saskatchewan was “non-negotiable”.

Unfortunately, the media neglected to inform voters of these things during the election.

Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Saskatchewan Party: Privatization By Stealth

"It’s critically important to remember that the likes of Brad Wall and his Saskatchewan party—just like [Grant] Devine, Stephen Harper, Mike Harris and BC’s own Gordon Campbell—have a visceral contempt for the whole of idea of democratic government. Their assignment as devotees of neo-liberal economics is to dismantle government—or as much of social democratic government as possible and still win elections."

"Gordon Campbell swore up and down he would not privatize BC Rail—an extremely successful Crown corporation. Then he did just that despite a hue and cry from everyone involved—except CN and all the lawyers involved in the sale. The important part of this method is to do it fast and early and hope that people won’t stay angry for four years—a good assumption in this case."

Planet S Magazine
NEWS · OCT 25 2007

Privatization By Stealth

by Murray Dobbin

People in Saskatchewan may not have noticed, but the rest of the country has sort of caught up with them when it comes to attitudes towards privatization. They generally don’t like it, in part because they are increasingly suspicious of the huge corporations and their overpaid CEOs who are the only ones who benefit. Saskatchewan has not faced a major threat of big privatizations since the demise of the Grant Devine government. They tried their best—but when we got together and “sold” Devine’s house it started a movement that convinced the NDP to take a stand.

But don’t ever think that these carpetbaggers have given up on handing over public assets to their friends. They’ve just become a little more subtle in doing it. The language has changed—the end result has not. It’s critically important to remember that the likes of Brad Wall and his Saskatchewan party—just like Devine, Stephen Harper, Mike Harris and BC’s own Gordon Campbell—have a visceral contempt for the whole of idea of democratic government. Their assignment as devotees of neo-liberal economics is to dismantle government—or as much of social democratic government as possible and still win elections.

If Mr. Wall is promising not to go on a privatizing spree, take that promise with a bucket of salt. The man probably has his fingers and toes crossed so the promise is meaningless. Here are four ways that these political free marketeers try to get away with selling off the public good, all the while denying they are privatizing.

The first way is to make the process so complex and multi-faceted that people’s heads swim trying to get at the truth. Case in point: BC Hydro. This is the crown jewel of British Columbia’s public companies and has provided BC with the cheapest power of virtually any jurisdiction in North America for decades. But upon coming to power the Liberals implemented a complex scheme that, when taken as a whole, has not only privatized parts of Hydro but has immobilized it as a power company. It is being transformed from a company serving BC citizens (and some very large corporate power users) to one that will end up being a power exporter.

First they contracted about half a dozen company functions to a huge U.S. transnational, Accenture, based in Bermuda. Then they broke the company up into several parts—power generation, power sales and transmission—and deliberately weakened the company in so doing. Then they passed legislation that prohibited BC Hydro from actually producing any new power. From that day on, only private producers could generate new supply—and at prices far higher than Hydro’s. As a result, private power companies have applied for over 400 licenses to construct run-of-the-river power projects. The return to the public for these lucrative power sites is scandalously small, while the prices paid for the power is far beyond what is reasonable for a normal profit.

Once their contracts with BC Hydro have expired they can sell directly to the U.S. (where prices are multiples higher) even if it means BC is short of power—and, adding insult to injury—they have legally binding access to Hydro’s transmission lines, now controlled by a U.S.-dominated transmission authority.

But do the people of BC still own BC Hydro? Sure they do—but it won’t do them much good as they watch their rates double.

Sleight-of-hand number two in the privatizer’s bag of tricks is something called public private partnerships, or P3s. Again, these extremely complex deals appear to leave the facility in question—hospitals, schools, rec centres, highways and bridges—in public hands. Technically, they still operate as public services, based on long term (25-35 years) contracts which set out all the responsibilities of the public service. The winning contractors design, build, finance and operate the facilities—and with higher interest rates than governments pay and a built-in level of profit, the costs skyrocket.

One classic example in BC is the Abbotsford Hospital—the original P3 showpiece of the Campbell government. Construction costs increased from $210 million to $355 million, and the annual operating lease for the private sector contractor more than doubled from $20 million to $41 million. Legal and consultant costs for this deal came in at $24.5 million. The Campbell government now has $5 billion worth of these outrageous giveaways on the books—and the fine folks of BC are stuck with them for at least a generation.

Municipalities which resist these expensive and complex schemes soon find out that their power to do anything is limited: in the biggest P3 in the country, the province forced lower mainland municipalities to construct a $1.5 billion rapid transit line through a P3 (the price is now approaching $2 billion) by threatening to withhold its share of the cost.

Then, of course, there’s the famous example of the massive privatization of health sector jobs—accomplished by the tearing up of legally binding contracts with several health care unions. Thousands of jobs were lost, and people were often hired back by the private contractor for 30-40 per cent lower wages. Fortunately, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that tearing up these contracts was illegal—and in deciding in favour of the unions, established for the first time that collective bargaining is a right protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But it doesn’t mean that such jobs can’t still be privatized.

Lastly, if everything else fails, these governments just lie. Gordon Campbell swore up and down he would not privatize BC Rail—an extremely successful Crown corporation. Then he did just that despite a hue and cry from everyone involved—except CN and all the lawyers involved in the sale. The important part of this method is to do it fast and early and hope that people won’t stay angry for four years—a good assumption in this case.

So, free marketer —promise away. Once you have power there’s lots of ways to skin a publicly owned cat.