VANCOUVER – On Friday, December 13, the Criminal Justice Branch of the province of British Columbia announced it would not press charges against the four policemen responsible for the death of Polish visitor to Canada Robert Dziekanski on October 17, 2007. Spokesman Robert Lowe said there was "no substantial likelihood of conviction if his service proceeded to criminal charges."
The announcement was a big disappointment to the family of the victim and to the thousands of Canadians that have staged rallies and written letters and petitions demanding justice be served. The lawyer for the family said the Branch’s decision was based on information supplied by the RCMP. He said that some witnesses did not talk to the force as it compiled its version of events because of an obvious conflict of interest.
The announcement was also another low for the cabal of police and government agencies that routinely swing into action whenever police violence or illegality hits the public spotlight. Lowe attempted to shift the blame for Dziekanski’s death onto the victim himself. He said that at the time of his death, Dziekanski was delirious, due to alcohol withdrawal and flight fatigue.
This is a new version of an old song. In the days following the killing, the RCMP said that Dziekanski was exhibiting a medical condition they called "excited delirium" and could only be subdued by force. That explanation was laughed out of the picture by medical experts.
The force suggested that Dziekanski was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It sent a team of investigators to Poland to dig up dirt on Dziekanski’s past. An autopsy disproved the lies of drug or alcohol abuse. The lawyer for the victim’s family explained yesterday that Dziekanski was carrying an unopened bottle of vodka in his hand luggage at the time of his death. The branch announcement did not report this fact, presumably because it would disprove the claim of "alcohol withdrawal."
Killing viewed around the world
Dziekanski’s death was famously captured on amateur video and broadcast around the world. He came to Canada to visit his mother, Zofia Cisowski, a resident of Kelowna, B.C.
Upon arrival in Vancouver, unable to speak English, he was prevented from exiting the secure section of the international arrivals area of the airport and left to wander for hours. His mother and other family members were waiting just meters away. Like the victim, they received no explanation of what was going on. They left the airport after five hours, believing he had not arrived.
As the hours of waiting stretched out, Dziekanski became more and more agitated over his fate. No official at the very modern airport attended seriously to his concern. Several passengers helped him out as best they could. As his state of agitation rose, police were called. Four RCMP officers arrived on the scene and in less than one minute they blasted him with five taser shots while wrestling him to the ground. They made no serious attempt at communication with him nor with the passengers willing to help out.
Dziekanski was held face-down by the cops with knees on his back and across the back of his neck. He died of a heart attack, though witnesses also said his skin colour turned blue, a sign of asphyxiation.
The young author of the video seen by the world is one of the unsung heroes of this story. Paul Pritchard of Victoria, B.C. voluntarily surrendered his camera to police. He was told they would keep it for 24 hours. When that stretched to 48 hours, then longer, he threatened legal action if they did not return it. When he got it back, he released it to the world.
Of the four police who assaulted Dziekanski, the one who fired the taser, Kwesi Millington, has been transferred to the Toronto West detachment of the RCMP. Two others have been transferred, one to Nanaimo, the other to an unknown detachment.
The fourth officer, Benjamin Robinson, was reassigned to the 2010 Winter Olympics security detachment following the killing but is now under suspension with pay. On October 29, 2008, he killed a 21 year-old man while driving drunk in Delta, a Vancouver suburb. Orion Hutchinson was the son of a local firefighter and was riding a motorcycle when struck at high speed by the vehicle the cop was driving. Robinson fled the scene on foot after the accident, not stopping to see if he could save the victim. He has not been charged.
At least eight people have been killed by police tasers in Canada since the death of Robert Dziekanski. Close to 300 have died in North America since the weapon’s deployment. A small number of voices are calling to ban police from having the weapon. But most statements by civil rights figures call for "restriction" of taser use, including "better training" of police and restricted deployment of the weapon.
The first approval of the weapon by police forces in Canada was granted by the then-NDP government of British Columbia in 2000, as recommended by its attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh. Dosanjh has since said he was misled by the weapon’s manufacturer as to its lethal potential, but he does not favor its withdrawal.
Dosanjh told the Georgia Straight in May 2008, "I think that ultimately the Taser is a device that [police] may be required to use under appropriate circumstances. The fact is that the RCMP and other police forces need to have stronger national standards for using these kinds of devices."
Attention in the Dziekanski case now shifts to a judicial inquiry that will resume next month. It is led by retired Justice Thomas Braidwood. A first phase heard testimony last spring; the second phase has been delayed because the RCMP said it would not participate if charges against any of its officers were possible.