(Prime Time Crime exclusive Nov. 20, 2007)

The right questions not being asked

By Leo Knight

The death of Robert Dziekanski is a tragedy.  No question.  But, Oh my God, calls to disband the RCMP as a result are crazy in the extreme.  Equally, calling the four members of the RCMP who responded to violent man call on October 14th ridiculous names such as “murderers” is disingenuous to say the least and slanderous at worst.

Like most of you, I had heard of the death of Robert Dziekanski from the news headlines a day after the fact.  Also like most to you, I saw the video taken by bystander, Paul Pritchard which clearly shows an agitated, unpredictable man prior to police attendance.

Unlike most of you, I am not so quick to pillory the police.  In point of fact, the police response in this instance is about as predictable as the events made it.  In fact, I waited for several days to comment even going so far as to turn down over a dozen media requests for interviews while I considered the information available as well as the actual videotape broadcast of the incident.

Now, I harbor no illusions that anything I say won’t be immediately dismissed by the cop haters, who have been very loud in the days since the video was released.  I’m sure I will be classified by them as a police apologist.  I expect that and it is certainly not my intention.  In point of fact, I have some very serious problems with the way the RCMP have handled this incident.  But those concerns do not lie with the four members that responded on that fateful night.

Those members responded to a call of a violent, disturbed man.  They were undoubtedly told of the violence perpetrated by Dziekanski in the time preceding their arrival.  They were also undoubtedly told that in all likelihood the man didn’t speak English. 

The Mounties arrive together are carefully approaching Dziekanski as they climb over the railing into the secure area.  In doing so, one member asks how Dziekanski is doing.  But clearly, the police are being wary of someone they know has been violent and has committed at least a couple of Criminal Code offences for which he was arrestable.  Yes, you read that right.  The video clearly shows evidence of causing a disturbance and mischief.

They worked as a team with the intent of taking Dziekanski into custody.  In doing so, they followed their training and the RCMP policy.  You may not want to hear that.  Indeed, I can quite imagine that many of you think what you saw was brutal and inhuman.  It wasn’t.  It was designed to cause the least damage to a violent man while causing the least damage to the arresting officers. 

And please, those idiots who are decrying the four on one concept haven’t a clue what they are talking about and should be accorded all the respect they have earned, none.  Would it have been somehow better if one member of the RCMP approached Dziekanski and challenged him to a fair fight?  Marquis of Queensberry rules apply I would suppose?

Are the Mounties clean in all of this?  No, not at all.  But, it is their reaction after the fact where I take issue.  The media response once they knew that Dziekanski had died was puzzling, if not downright misleading and that is wrong on so many levels.

Equally, I am often troubled by the ease in which Tasers are deployed by police.  In my years as a police officer I was involved in hundreds of arrests with folks who were either beyond reason by virtue of drugs, mental issues or a combination thereof.  In my day, we were armed with a gun and a pair of handcuffs.  The choices were significantly more limited than today.  Yet, we coped and did our jobs.

It is my view that some, not all, police officers use Tasers as a “path of least resistance” instead of going “hands on” with a suspect.  And sometimes, that path is not the correct one.  But that is a very different discussion.  The policy of the RCMP to use Tasers is what it is and the officers responding to the Dziekanski “violent man” call at YVR did what they are trained to do.  That a man died as a result may be the fault of that man or it may be the fault of the policy.  But it is not the fault of those police officers and the shameless attempts to criminalize the fact they were prepared to face a dangerous situation is blatantly wrong.

The more pertinent questions to me are where the Customs folks were in all the time Dziekanski was getting more and more frustrated in the baggage retrieval area?  And, oddly enough, they are the one agency we have yet to hear from in this movie.  Do they think they are not answerable or is it just easier to let the RCMP take all the heat?

Equally, where was YVR security for ten hours?  They are visible in the Pritchard video briefly, but they are certainly only monitoring his behaviour and clearly not containing or engaging.  But this is ten hours after he cleared primary Customs.  Every square inch of that area is on CCTV camera coverage.  How did Dziekanski slip under that screen? 

And then there is the fact that Dziekanski’s mother tried in vain to inquire where her son was.  How is it possible that no one at YVR put two and two together and figured out the man acting strangely in the baggage retrieval area and the woman desperately trying to find her son who didn’t speak English needed to be put together?

There are many questions that need to be answered in the death of Robert Dziekanski.  But those questions are currently being directed in the wrong direction.



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