It has now been over five weeks since Robert Dziekanski died after being Tasered by RCMP officers at the Vancouver International Airport. While a video of the incident sparked worldwide media coverage and widespread outrage, the provincial and federal governments have just recently made public apologies for the death.
The killing of Robert Dziekanski has resulted in calls for the use of Tasers by police forces to be banned. In Vancouver, local outrage over the incident will be culminating in a protest rally this weekend that is expected to be the largest the city has seen in sometime. rabble.ca editor Derrick O’Keefe caught up with Tania Lukasiewicz, one of the main organizers of this grassroots initiative.
Derrick O’Keefe: What was your motivation for organizing this public rally in response to the death of Robert at the hands of the RCMP?
Tania Lukasiewicz: As a registered psychiatric nurse, I fight for my patients’ everyday, to make sure that their rights are upheld, their needs are met and their wants are considered. I felt that as a citizen of Canada it is really important that I bring this to light. And nobody else had a protest going so I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to start one.’
What is the main message that you hope will be conveyed about this story that has now gone out all around the world?
Well, I personally feel that the RCMP don’t have enough training. They only go through six months of training, whereas for example a registered psychiatric nurse goes to school for three years to learn how to communicate with people. I don’t believe that six months is adequate training whatsoever. I know chefs that go through more training than that, and they don’t carry guns.
So there are a lot of different issues. I think there was a massive communication breakdown between the agencies in the airport. I think a lot of people have responded to what they’ve seen in this video, just because it’s so tangible, but they often forget that the CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] and a lot of the other agencies have a lot to do with this as well. It’s disturbing from so many angles. It wasn’t even actually shown on TV because it’s so disturbing; you have to go on the Internet to find it. Basically we want to say that there were a lot of injustices done, and that someone, somehow has to pay for this. And at the same time there are a lot of changes that have to be done.
Are you of the opinion that Tasers should be banned?
Personally, I think that Tasers should be banned. They seem to have gotten their work done without them before they came along. And, if somebody had an elevated heartbeat already, I wouldn’t give them paddles. So why would you shock someone who is highly agitated, and has a really high heartbeat because he’s scared? Why would you give him 50 000 volts, or whatever it is, at that point? It is brutal and it’s inhumane.
I have seen only one article in print really defending the actions of the officers, and that was by a police officer who writes for the Vancouver Province newspaper. He claims that the use of a Taser was justified in this case because Robert Dziekanski was in a state of “excited delirium.” Do you have any comment on this category, and this justification?
It’s absolutely counter-productive because delirium itself is actually a medical emergency. And to use a Taser on someone at that point âe” you know they’re excited, their heart rate is massively increased. It really doesn’t take much to get someone’s heart beating the wrong way. I haven’t researched much about this, excited delirium, but if somebody is in that state of panic you don’t do that. And, also, when the cops use Tasers on each other as practice they are not agitated and their heartbeat is normal. And they’re expecting the shock, and frankly I don’t even think that Robert knew what a Taser was.
People’s reaction locally, and around the world, seems to have been pretty overwhelming in speaking out in disgust as you are. How do you feel about the reaction of the general public to this incident?
It has been inspiring. The first day the rally group [on Facebook] started, there were 30 people, then 35, but now there are over 430 people. It has been very inspiring to know that people care, and people from all walks of life, Canadians, immigrants, children, young people, old people âe” everybody. And I think they are coming out in the masses that they are because there are so many things that went wrong.
Does the government’s recent apology make you hopeful that the people in positions of power are taking note of the public reaction?
It does, but I think that they were pressured by the public and that the apology doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a very cookie cutter apology. And they did it for self-preservation, really. Although it was nice to hear, it was really too little, too late.
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