VANCOUVER — After more than two years of grieving, Robert Dziekanski’s mother now has some answers about how her son came to die on an airport floor, handcuffed and surrounded by RCMP officers.
The public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death released a scathing report Friday that confirmed much of what Zofia Cisowski already believed: the four RCMP officers who confronted her son used too much force when they stunned him with a Taser and then they lied about what happened.
Cisowski welcomed the report but said it’s not enough.
“My expectations are that (the) attorney general appoint an independent investigator to find that officers will be charged criminally,” a soft-spoken Cisowski said after the report’s release.
“I am just interested in these four RCMP (officers) — they still have no consequences,” she told reporters, looking tired and drawn.
That may yet happen.
The blunt assessment of inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood that the four Mounties deliberately misled investigators prompted the B.C. government to appoint a special prosecutor to reconsider criminal charges.
The province’s Criminal Justice Branch said in December 2008 that the officers acted reasonably in the circumstances and wouldn’t be charged.
But Attorney General Mike de Jong said Braidwood’s report left the province no choice but to order a second look.
“In the immediate aftermath of the release of the Braidwood commission report . . . it is, in my view, not just warranted but essential that a reconsideration of that decision take place,” said de Jong.
Braidwood said Dziekanski’s death, which was captured on a now-infamous amateur video, “shocked and repulsed people around the world” and the four officers acted improperly at nearly every step of the brief and tragic encounter.
When Dziekanski picked up a stapler, one of them fired a Taser five times even though, Braidwood said, they could not have believed he posed a threat to them or anyone else.
And after his death, they offered inaccurate rationalizations to justify their actions, he said.
“This tragic case is, at its heart, a story of shameful conduct by a few officers,” Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal judge, said as he outlined his findings.
Braidwood made eight recommendations to the B.C. government, including setting up an independent civilian body to investigate police officers in serious cases and urging the federal government to make further changes to how passengers are processed at Vancouver’s airport.
The B.C. government immediately said it would act on all the recommendations, and promised to set up the new civilian agency within the next 12 months.
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said RCMP would hand over future investigations of its officers to B.C.’s new oversight body, as it has done in other provinces with similar agencies such as Alberta.
Elliott, who repeated the force’s apology to Cisowski at a news conference following the report’s release, acknowledged that the officers involved in Dziekanski’s death made mistakes.
“Our policies and training were inadequate; the actions of our members were inappropriate,” he said.
He said there have been many changes since Dziekanski’s death, including policy changes to ensure offices are warned there is a risk of death with conducted energy weapons such as Tasers and an emphasis on using the least amount of force necessary.
“While nothing can bring back Mr. Dziekanski it is our hope that our ongoing efforts will help prevent future tragedies from occurring,” he said.
As for the cause of death, Braidwood said people will never know for sure but he did say the Taser and the struggle with police were major factors.
“… I consider it a reasonable inference that the multiple deployments of the conducted-energy weapon played a more prominent role,” says the report.
Dziekanski’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year against the RCMP and others, but settled the case this past April after receiving a public apology from the force and an undisclosed financial settlement.
Three of the four officers involved are on administrative duties and are not doing front-line police work.
The fourth, Cpl. Benjamin (Monty) Robinson, is suspended and facing trial for obstruction of justice following an unrelated fatal car crash in October 2008.
Braidwood’s report was also critical of border officials and the Vancouver airport, but acknowledged the airport has made significant changes since Dziekanski’s death.
In particular, Braidwood was critical of a customs officer who told Dziekanski’s mother the man wasn’t in the airport and she should go home.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews issued a statement welcoming the report, but said his government will take the time necessary for a careful review before commenting.
The report follows an exhaustive public inquiry that spent much of last year hearing from more than 90 witnesses.
Braidwood released another report last year that concluded conducted energy weapons can kill and their use should be restricted, however he also found they were a necessary tool for police.
The 470-page report is titled “Why? The Robert Dziekanski Tragedy,” after the final word uttered by Dziekanski before the first jolt of the Taser hit him.
“Have you lost your minds?” Dziekanski is heard saying in Polish on the witness video. “Why?”