Skip to content

Taser Inquiry Batters RCMP Credibility

March 30, 2009
RCMP Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson defended variations in his earlier statements by telling the inquiry that he didnt articulate well.

RCMP Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson defended variations in his earlier statements by telling the inquiry that he didn't articulate well.

An office stapler. Nothing special, right?

But since Robert Dziekanski picked one up at the Vancouver airport when confronted by four Mounties on a fateful morning in 2007, it has become a symbol of growing public outrage with the RCMP over the Polish immigrant’s death.

Week after week, the Braidwood Commission of Inquiry looking into the death has heard the four Mounties massage earlier statements about Dziekanski’s actions – including with the stapler – as well as their own.

Or, as senior officer Cpl. Benjamin (Monty) Robinson, the final Mountie to testify this week, explained: “I was mistaken, but I was telling the truth.”

It’s not true, insisted Robinson, that he took Dziekanski’s pulse with his work glove on. Or that he put the weight of his knee on the man’s neck, rather than on his shoulders. He discounts scenes from an amateur video shot by bystander Paul Pritchard that seem to show otherwise, with the comment: “I don’t know how you’re interpreting it, but I’m telling you what I did.”

It’s clear the public grasps inconsistencies in RCMP testimony about what happened early on Oct. 14, 2007, when Dziekanski, 40, was pronounced dead at the scene. He’d been zapped five times by an RCMP Taser, including after he lay writhing on the ground, screaming in pain. “You’re assuming he was screaming in pain,” Robinson corrected.

Faith in the Mounties appears to be nose-diving. A recent Harris-Decima poll for The Canadian Press shows 60 per cent of respondents feel the officers used excessive force on Dziekanski. Polish Canadians recently started an online petition against the officers through Facebook, and readers routinely fire off critical emails to the Star.

Wrote Lynne Earle from Slave Lake, Alta.: “A sad day for the Force and Joe Public’s faith in the system.”

This week, RCMP Cpl. Peter Thiessen, a senior media relations officer, told inquiry reporters: “This is a lose-lose situation for everybody … We are certainly sensitive to the fact the public trust is at a level we would rather not see it at.”

Opposition parliamentarians describe a “crisis of confidence” and fear damage to the national force could be permanent. Says NDP public safety critic Jack Harris (St. John’s East): “We’re very concerned because we’re seeing a loss of respect for the RCMP in the minds of Canadians.”

Critics urge RCMP Commissioner William Elliott to enforce stricter guidelines for Taser use and, failing that, for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to introduce an amendment to the Criminal Code to severely restrict use of Tasers by police.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh (Vancouver South), a former B.C. attorney general, urges a moratorium on the use of Tasers. Of the RCMP’s Elliott, Dosanjh says: “He has utterly failed; he has shown no guidance, no leadership.”

Meanwhile, the world is watching.

“It’s the cover-up that’s the worst,” says Marcin Wrona, covering the hearings for TVN Poland. Last week, two of his broadcasts pulled in close to 4 million viewers. “Incidents happen everywhere, but it’s how you handle it.”

Before the inquiry, Robinson appeared calm and, at times, aggrieved by questions. In a March 2 letter from his lawyer, he changed key facts about the event, saying he hadn’t “articulated well” before. Lawyer Don Rosenbloom, acting for the Polish republic, suggested the four officers cooked up their stories and collaborated to mislead an internal RCMP investigation.

Shortly after Dziekanski’s death, RCMP officials described a man who “continued to throw things around and yell and scream” after police arrived. On the basis of the RCMP investigation, plus the amateur video, the Criminal Justice Board of B.C. announced last December that the four officers applied reasonable and necessary force, and that no charges would be recommended.

Thiessen says if additional evidence is brought forward by Commissioner Thomas Braidwood in his report, it “could potentially be forwarded to (RCMP) counsel for their decision.” He won’t comment when asked whether the altered versions present such evidence.

Certainly, a different image has emerged of Dziekanski, who spoke no English and arrived to live with his mother, Zofia Cisowski, in Kamloops, B.C.; his luggage was filled mostly with geography books.

It now appears he didn’t stack his luggage against the door of the secure arrivals area, as officers originally said, nor did he appear in an “agitated state … angry … pissed off … just wired up.”

He didn’t ignore RCMP commands, nor “wildly swing the stapler” while advancing on the Mounties. He didn’t have to be “wrestled” to the ground, as they’d originally stated. Rather, said Robinson: “The Taser took him to the ground.”

Still, Robinson insisted Dziekanski was a threat, as he held his stapler to face four Mounties armed with guns, metal batons, pepper spray and the Taser. The amateur video shows what appears to be a confused man who throws up his hands in what Rosenbloom describes as “resignation.”

Dziekanski’s last words before he was Tasered the first time were (as translated): “So you are not going to let me out of here? Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Are you crazy?”

Then the inquiry heard the sound of the multiple Taser zappings, amplified for viewing by Braidwood, witnesses and spectators, including Dziekanski’s mother.

Even on the ground, handcuffed, Dziekanski remained a threat, Robinson claimed. Const. Bill Bentley called in a “Code 3” emergency after seeing a blue discoloration, but Robinson said this week only Dziekanski’s ears were blue.

Robinson, whose first-aid training and Taser certification were expired at the time, stuck to his view Dziekanski might be alive if he hadn’t picked up the stapler. If he hadn’t done so, Const. Kwesi Millington might not have jolted him five times with his Taser, beginning 24 seconds after the Mounties encountered him in arrivals.

“On a personal level, it’s so painful to watch (that video),” says Liberal MP and public safety critic Mark Holland (Ajax-Pickering), who says oversight is badly needed for the RCMP. “What a cruel and terrible way to die … It is so tragic.”

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: