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May-24-2009 15:11printcommentsVideo

Another Taser Death (VIDEO)

Many Canadians are now focusing on is the apparent lack of truth and responsibility on the part of the national police force.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police looming above Mr. Dziekanski
Murky image from a YouTube video shows the Royal Canadian Mounted Police looming above Mr. Dziekanski. The officer on the right as you see at 7:12 on the video, is striking downward repeatedly with a baton. It is not clear if he is hitting the suspect, but it appears that he could be.

(CALGARY, Alberta) - On October 14, 2007, 40 year-old Robert Dziekański arrived at Vancouver International airport from Poland after a flight of nearly 24 hours.

He was emigrating to Canada to live with his mother in Kamloops, B.C. The plan she offered was for them to meet by the baggage carousel. What she didn’t realize was that the carousel was in a secure area to which she had no access. This, otherwise insignificant, error cost Dziekański his life.

Dziekanski spoke no English but he believed it would not be a problem. There were Polish-speaking people on the plane and his mother would be at the airport.

His flight was about two hours late and he arrived at Vancouver just after 3:00 p.m. on October 13, 2007.

Officials later reported that he needed language support to fill out customs forms. From then until about 11:00 p.m. his exact whereabouts were unknown, although he had been seen around the baggage carousel. About 10:00 p.m. his mother inquired for the last time about her son and was told that he was not in the airport. She returned home to Kamloops.

Around midnight he was directed to a secondary processing area to have his visa completed. No airport personnel expressed any curiosity as to why a man was still hanging around nine hours after arriving!

It was around this time that he became agitated. After nearly 40 hours of little or no sleep, in an unfamiliar area, with no one who spoke his language and virtually no help from airport personnel, this is not a surprise.

He apparently began throwing furniture around and the security guards made little attempt to communicate with him or de-escalate the situation. Finally, the airport police, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) were called. Four officers arrived and seven seconds later he was given the first of five taser shocks. (The RCMP initially said that only three officers arrived and that he had been tasered only twice.)

He fell to the floor after the first jolt, but the officer with the Taser continued shocking him. Then, with Dziekański on his stomach one of the officers leaped on him with a knee to his neck or upper back and he was handcuffed. The four officers then milled around, giving him no assistance while he died from heart failure.

This is where the story really begins. When paramedics arrived twelve minutes later the officers refused to unhandcuff the unconscious man because they still considered him a threat. The paramedics said later, that Dziekański was already dead by this time.

After the incident the four officers filled out their reports. They all said basically the same thing. Dziekański was wildly throwing things around and had picked up a stapler from a desk and was waving it wildly over his head as he approached the officers in a threatening manner.

Enter Paul Pritchard, a citizen who happened to be outside the area and caught everything on his cellphone camera. Were it not for Pritchard, the officers’ story would have been accepted as accurate and Dziekański’s death would have been explainable as due to his own irrational actions.

Pritchard gave his camera to the RCMP who, after reviewing it, refused to return it. Pritchard had to go to court to get it back, at which point he released the video to the media.

It turns out that almost nothing the officers said in their reports was accurate. They all later claimed that they had made errors in their reports, but what makes them suspect is that they all claimed to see the same wrong things.

* Dziekański was agitated when they arrived. He was not.

* He waved the stapler about menacingly. In the video he never raises it above waist level

* They claimed that they had to tackle him and wrestle him to the ground. Not true.

* They claimed that he did not fall at the first taser jolt. He did.

The B.C. government announced an inquiry to be headed by retired judge Thomas R. Braidwood. After two delays, the inquiry began on January 19, 2009. In February 2009 Canada unilaterally suspended its mutual legal assistance treaty with Poland, thus blocking Poland's own investigation of the incident.

While Dziekański’s death was a totally preventable tragedy, what many Canadians are now focusing on is the apparent lack of truth and responsibility on the part of the national police force. There have been other in custody injuries and deaths at their hands and many people are now legitimately concerned about what happened in those incidents where only the word of the officers is available.

A more fundamental issue is that the police, even after viewing the video, decided that no criminal charges against any of the officers was warranted. This is a clear case showing that police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves.

The Braidwood Inquiry is in its final days and it is not known when Mr. Justice Braidwood will release his report.


Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class—a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves—writing and trying to make the world a better place

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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danwalter June 2, 2009 9:10 am (Pacific time)

Why is Johns Hopkins Medicine Backing TASER?

Anonymous May 25, 2009 1:12 pm (Pacific time)

For some reason I think there is a connection between the man who used the shock collar on his kids and how often it seems cops 'need' to use their tasers. I think people get enjoyment out of other people's pain, which is sickening.

Mike Eley May 25, 2009 10:47 am (Pacific time)

The only thing I have learned from this tragedy is that the RCMP is perfectly within thier rights to kill an innocent man in a very stupid and inhuman way then lie about it to our Justice System, the Canadian People and Robert Dziekański's family. Makes me sick.

Sol A. Botage May 25, 2009 5:24 am (Pacific time)

It is apparent even to the untrained eye that Dziekanski was not a threat to anyone. How the Taser could have been justified, along with its continued deployment is bizarre and speaks to a great on the part of the police and in their attitude. The police should be criminally charge for assault, homicide and for perjury. The Taser manufacturer should also be charged with homicide and for fraud.

Daniel Johnson May 24, 2009 10:32 pm (Pacific time)

I would like to add a couple of details that were not appropriate for the actual story. All four police officers testified at the Inquiry that they saw the stapler Dziekanski was holding as a threatening potential weapon when it was clear from the video that he was holding it out of nervousness and just fidgetting with it. The commentary in online stories about this was almost uniformly ridicule. People made comments like: The only reason the cops were afraid was because none of them had been issued staple removers. And in offices, a common joke among workers was: I've got a stapler, don't make me open it. When the actual stapler was produced at the Inquiry, the people in the audience burst into spontaneous laughter and had to be admonished to silence by Mr. Justice Braidwood. If the officers aren't criminally charged, and convicted, I would expect that they will at least be dishonouraby discharged from the RCMP which has become, in some respects, an international laughingstock. How can these four officers hold up their heads in the presence of other policemen, most I'm sure are of a different caliber--honest, dedicated and upstanding officers?

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