Pity the RCMP, not Robert Dziekanski

Now the media pundits are piling on the RCMP following the release of the Paul Kennedy report on the RCMP and the death of Robert Dziekanski. Kennedy claimed the cellphone video captured “a defining moment.”

Now the media pundits are piling on the RCMP following the release of the Paul Kennedy report on the RCMP and the death of Robert Dziekanski.

Kennedy claimed the cellphone video captured “a defining moment.”

In the cellphone snuff video of Robert Dziekanski’s death, we only see the end, and draw conclusions.

We don’t see the beginning of his arrival in Canada at about 3 p.m. that day.

I looked at the timelines on the National Post and find that from his arrival in Canada he acted in a bizarre and unco-operative way, and that several times customs and airport staff intervened to try and help him, including in his own language.

As early as 4:09 p.m. that day, upon his arrival, a customs agent offers him a Polish help guide to assist him filling out his forms. He is sweating, not responsive, and takes much longer than others to fill out the form.

Seven hours later at 11 p.m., Polish-speaking Border Services agents go out of their way to retrieve his luggage from Lufthansa and complete the processing of missing immigration documents.

One of them even walks him out into the reception area – Dziekanski later climbs back over a Plexiglas barrier into the hall he’d come from!

Nearly 18 million passengers a year go through Vancouver International Airport. Many of them do not speak English.

So far, we have no other media reports of tasering deaths at the airport other than that of Robert Dziekanski.

Million of dollars later in inquiries and billions of dollars in lost trust in our police, we hear the RCMP acted too soon to deploy the Taser.

TV viewers have been treated to an almost nightly replay of the snuff film shot by a citizen cameraman who happened to be there – a media circus that has quickly lead to a condemnation of the RCMP and a kind of show trial for which there can only be one conclusion by the arm-chair cops.

I watched the cellphone video again this weekend – but from the top. I also re-read a National Post timeline of events.

On the video, I saw a large man, obviously distraught, so much so that you can clearly hear his laboured breathing on the cell video shot from several feet away. He brandishes a folding seat. In the background, we hear several passengers expressing concern about his behaviour. A mature woman approaches him, hand out in a gesture friendship. He turns away.

The man returns inside. He casts about for other things; he picks up something and violently smashes it to the ground and in the background we hear a person, saying, “Geez, right in front of the cops.”

Security people station themselves at the door. By-standers call out that he speaks Russian. A security guard on his walkie talkie asks for a Russian speaker.

In the background, Dziekanski seems now even more distraught. He smashes a computer to the ground. He shows no sign of requesting help or intention to cooperate.

The arriving RCMP appear to know the man represents trouble – why else are there four of them? Clearly they are expecting that they need extra manpower.

Dziekanski was a big man – he did not respond openly to the police – he turned away. And he picked up the now famous stapler – we hear someone say “Does he have a knife?” And they shoot him with the Taser.

What of his mother? She is reportedly suing the airport for wrongful death. Yet she arrived at the airport without the details of his flight, airline or arrival time. Imagine expecting that airport staff could locate one individual out of approximately 60,000 travellers a day of some 1,000+ flight arrivals, with no other identifiers than his name.

How is it that Dziekanski didn’t have a translated English note from home or from the airlines, as many foreign travellers do – that says “I do not speak English. Polish. My Mother is _________ Phone: ___________ My airline and flight details are:______________. She is meeting me here. Please help me.”?

Dziekanski’s fate is a terrible personal tragedy – but worse is the circus of condemnation we have unleashed upon the RCMP – the thin ‘blue’ line defending us daily from all kinds of perps, weirdos and criminals. They did their job. He did not cooperate – and language was not the issue.

Dziekanski was already disoriented and unco-operative upon arrival.

Read the timeline and see what the camera did not show you.

In most airports, smashing up property would result in a swift and fatal bullet. No inquiry. No apology.

Only in Canada do we demand that our law enforcement officers be nannies, psychics and EMTs. Oh, and keep us safe too.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.

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