VANCOUVER — At best, the four RCMP officers who confronted Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport and stunned him several times with a Taser panicked, the lawyer for Robert Dziekanski’s mother told the public inquiry into his death Monday.
At worst, they arrived with a plan to use what amounted to excessive force, Walter Kosteckyj said in his final submission to the inquiry.
Either way, the Mounties failed to live up to their training and the law, he said.
“The Tasering of Mr. Dziekanski at its best would be characterized as a premature, hurried and panicked response, and at the worst was a premeditated and planned attack,” Kosteckyj said.
Kosteckyj spent more than two hours outlining what he called a “systematic failure” to help Dziekanski, 40, at the airport in the hours before his death on Oct. 14, 2007.
He criticized the airport and customs officers, but much of his submission focused on the four officers who were called to the airport after Dziekanski, who only spoke Polish, started throwing furniture.
Kosteckyj said the officers acted improperly from the moment they entered the airport, not taking time to assess the situation or communicate with Dziekanski, and resorting to the Taser within seconds of approaching the man.
Despite the officers’ claims to the contrary, Kosteckyj said the swiftness of their response suggests they approached Dziekanski already planning to use the stun gun.
“You can make conclusions based upon the length of time it took to get from zero to 60,” Kosteckyj told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood.
“There is at least evidence that there had been some premeditation, some discussion, some determination made.”
All four officers insisted they never talked about their response before arriving and only used the Taser once Dziekanski picked up a stapler.
Their testimony and their earlier statements to investigators were marked with inconsistencies about what happened when compared with an eyewitness video of the confrontation, and they were accused of lying at the inquiry to justify their response.
Kosteckyj spent more than 10 minutes listing discrepancies, including the Mounties’ repeated assertions that Dziekanski stood through the Taser jolts, had to be tackled to the ground, and was coming at the officers yelling with his hands above his head when the Taser was fired.
The video shows none of that.
Kosteckyj said the similarities of their accounts suggest the officers worked to get their stories straight and cover up their mistakes.
“You’re left with the inescapable conclusion that these four officers, knowing they had to justify the use and the amount of force, made statements to meet the legal threshold they knew they had to cross,” said Kosteckyj.
Braidwood will have to assess the officers’ conduct, and has already told the Mounties that he’s considering whether to make findings of misconduct.
The officers, however, have argued that a provincial inquiry has no jurisdiction to make such findings over officers on the federal force.
Kosteckyj said that attitude shows the need for the B.C. government to cut its contracts with the RCMP for local and provincial policing and instead set up a provincial force.
“It is a principal of democracy that . . . the police must answer to the legislature,” he told the commissioner.
“In the event that they do not, and the RCMP are not prepared to do that while acting as a provincial police force, the result remains that there must be a recommendation that a provincial police force has to be put into place.”