VANCOUVER — A single sentence contained in an e-mail between RCMP brass in the weeks after Robert Dziekanski died has derailed a public inquiry, raising questions yet again about the testimony of four police officers and prompting calls for further investigation of the national police force.
As closing arguments were set to begin on Friday, a lawyer for the inquiry revealed a previously unreleased e-mail that suggested the RCMP officers developed a plan to use a Taser before they arrived at Vancouver’s airport.
All four insisted in their testimony that they did not.
The e-mail was met with a tearful apology by the RCMP’s lawyer for not releasing it sooner and denials from lawyers for the four officers and one of the senior Mounties referenced in the note. All claimed the contents of the e-mail were the result of a simple misunderstanding.
Commissioner Thomas Braidwood chided the RCMP for coming up with the e-mail so late, and put the inquiry on hold until Sept. 22 so its contents can be investigated.
“I find the delay in disclosing this material to the commission to be appalling,” said Braidwood.
“At the very least, it should have been disclosed to the commission before those officers testified.”
The delay means the inquiry could still be hearing new evidence from senior RCMP officials and additional testimony from the four officers nearly two years after Dziekanski died on the airport floor.
Braidwood’s final report — which will serve as a public record of what happened and include recommendations to prevent future tragedies — will be put off even longer.
And in the meantime, the RCMP, whose image appears to have already been damaged by the Dziekanski affair, has been forced to explain both the contents of the e-mail and why it was kept from public view for so long.
The e-mail was written in November 2007, just weeks after Dziekanski’s confrontation with the Mounties.
In it, Chief Supt. Dick Bent and RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al McIntyre were discussing their media strategy for the release of the now-infamous amateur video of the fatal confrontation.
Bent recounted a conversation with Supt. Wayne Rideout, who was in charge of the investigation into Dziekanski’s death.
“Spoke to Wayne, and he indicated that the members . . . . had discussed the response en route and decided that if he did not comply, that they would go to CEW (Taser),” wrote Bent, whose email was read in court on Friday.
The inquiry heard that the email was contained on a CD that the RCMP gave its lawyers in April, but government lawyers didn’t look through its contents until this week.
Federal government lawyer Helen Roberts apologized for not finding the email sooner, which she called an “oversight,” while casting doubt on the email’s contents.
“Canada continues, as it has all along, to fully support the work of this commission,” a tearful Roberts told the commissioner.
Still, Roberts said government lawyers have interviewed Bent, Rideout and McIntyre and concluded Bent’s email may have simply been wrong.
“It is our conclusion from these interviews that Chief. Supt. Bent must have misunderstood information provided to him by Supt. Rideout,” she said.
Lawyers for the four Mounties each stood up and said Bent’s email was wrong.
But that wasn’t enough for the commission.
While inquiry lawyer Art Vertlieb acknowledged the email was second-hand hearsay, he said the commission must determine whether or not Bent’s comments are accurate — and whether there are any other documents that have yet to be seen.
“The RCMP have had this for a long, long time — it should have been out,” Vertlieb told reporters.
The force released a statement insisted it has “co-operated fully” with the inquiry.
“Unfortunately in an exercise of this magnitude, such an oversight can occur,” the statement said.
“The RCMP is as disappointed as all of the parties involved in this inquiry that there will be a delay in the completion of the inquiry.”
Vertlieb also pointed out that it’s not clear if prosecutors saw the email before making their decision on charges.
“One of the other questions is: Did the attorney general’s office and the charge approval see this? And we have no idea.”
Crown prosecutors announced last December that they wouldn’t be charging the officers, but the officers’ testimony prompted loud calls for that decision to be reconsidered.
The attorney general at the time said they could re-open the case if they hear new evidence, although the current attorney general wouldn’t say whether the email would fit the bill.
The inquiry resumes on Sept. 22.