Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Mar.  6, 2009)

Walking in the rain*

By Bob Cooper



Back in the 1960s, a young record producer named Phil Spector developed a studio recording technique which produced a powerful resonance that overwhelmed the listener with what was described as a ‘cavernous roar’.  It became known as the Wall of Sound and launched the careers of artists such as The Crystals, The Ronettes, and The Righteous Brothers.  For younger readers, watch “Goodfellas”.

Watching the recent coverage of the Dziekanski Inquiry I couldn’t help but think that lawyers and the news media have taken a leaf from Spector, added a bit from Goebbels, and once again launched the Wall of Spin, a juggernaut no less powerful and meant to overwhelm some basic truths.  Past examples include “black motorist Rodney King” or the video of the ERT arrest on Commercial Drive in 1992 where a young man refused to pull his arms out from under him while being arrested.  He was kicked once and punched once but  BCTV, the  station that got the tape played it repeatedly giving the impression of a flurry of punches & kicks.

Remember, the truth means different things to different people.  To lawyers, it is anything which will benefit their client.  To the news media it’s anything that will support their editorial agenda, like, say, getting rid of Tasers.  Any evidence or information which runs contrary to those interests is to be discredited or suppressed at all costs.  In the 1992 ERT incident a rival station, UTV, offered to view the tape with us and expose what BCTV was doing.  At the last minute BCTV threatened the City with a lawsuit and scared our bosses into cancelling the interview.

The basic foundation for this whole exercise is the premise that Robert Dziekanski was killed by the Taser.  Had he simply died of a heart attack while being restrained as have dozens of other people, there would have been a Coroner’s Inquest and that would have been the end of it.  Of all modern mechanical inventions none has been more exhaustively scrutinized than the Taser

Never mind that more people have died in the front seat of Ted Kennedy's car.  Like the Wizard of Oz said to Dorothy, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”.  Ignore that.  Pay attention over here.

That the technique works is evidenced by the fact that of the 3 RCMP Constables who have testified so far, Constable Kwesi Millington, who wielded the Taser, has been singled out for an extra helping of abuse.  Lawyers have accused him of lying to investigators and perjury while the media, ever the experts in these matters have chimed in with their suggestions of how they’d have handled the situation.

These include such brainwaves as “Why didn’t you get him a translator?”  OK, let’s see now, by the look of him I think we can rule out Japanese, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, most African languages, and probably Tagalog.  Now if only I knew how to say ‘German’ in German, ‘French’ in French, ‘Dutch’ in Dutch, and ‘Scottish’ in Scottish, we might get somewhere.  In the meantime, as my friend and former colleague, Gary Cameron, said in a letter to the Province, any underlying issues that brought him to this place are better dealt with after he’s safely in handcuffs.

By far the best one came from a recently retired Province columnist who asked why they couldn’t have just offered him a cup of coffee?  Here’s a man exhibiting bizarre behavior, damaging property, and throwing things in an airport.  So let’s give him a scalding hot cup of coffee that he can throw on us.  Mensa material.

When parts of the Constables’ stories differ, they’re accused of lying.  When they are the same, they’re accused of collusion.  When a portion of their evidence appears at variance with the video which is open to interpretation, they’re accused of both and their professionalism is attacked.

On a positive note, one media report described the antics of lawyer (and ex-Mountie) Walter Kosteckyj as follows: “…jabbed an accusing finger…face turned red.  Questions became arguments; sarcasm crept into his delivery; scoldings interrupted answers…..but he did not come close to matching Monday’s bravura performance by a much cooler and impartial inquiry commission counsel”.  The article didn’t mention commission counsel by name but it’s veteran defence lawyer Art Vertlieb, who is one bright light in all of this.  I had my first murder trial with Art and he was a perfect gentleman with a great sense of humor.  He was also the most effective cross-examiner I’ve ever encountered either before or since and he did it without being a drama queen.  I’ve been involved with public inquiries in the past and always came away with the feeling that the report had been written before the first witness was sworn.  I was happy to hear of Art’s appointment as he will bring common sense, calm, and decency to the proceedings.

I make no judgments as I wasn’t there and I don’t know all of the facts.  What I do know is that if 5 different people witness an event, you’ll get 5 different accounts because each person perceives things differently.  Every trial lawyer knows this but some ignore it when they want to attack someone and make them look deceptive.  Const. Millington’s lawyer, Ravi Hira put it best when he said “What does it matter if he wasn’t wrestled to the ground?.....On material matters there are no errors”.

There is also a big difference between being a witness who is completely uninvolved in an incident and being an active participant.  Much has been made of the fact that Const. Millington testified that he fired the Taser less than the 5 times he did.  To me, that clearly suggests a lack of collusion.  Knowing that the Taser records this information he’d be crazy to lie about it.  Also, in most Officer-Involved shootings, once the smoke has cleared the officers usually have no idea how many shots they fired.

Then there is the stapler which has become the latest instrument of ridicule.  How could such a thing strike fear into 4 members of the RCMP all kitted out with pistols, body armor, pepper spray, and batons?  I don’t know if ‘fear’ is the correct term but just heft one of those things, feel its edges.  I wouldn’t want to be hit in the face with one nor, I’m sure would most lawyers or reporters were they to stop and think about it.

It all makes for great theatre and plays to the delight of the gallery, which sounds like it’s packed with the usual cop-haters and nut jobs which is predictable since normal people have to go to work.

On the final day the lawyer for the Polish government went for broke and accused Const. Millington of all manner of criminal and dishonest acts.  Note – the lawyer doesn’t ever have to prove any of this.  In the confines of the courtroom he can throw irresponsible allegations around like confetti, damage reputations, wreck careers, and cannot be sued for it, truth notwithstanding.  Of the lawyers, by the  lawyers, and for the lawyers.  In any event, Const. Millington calmly stood up to the bullying and didn’t collapse in tears in the witness stand in the Perry Mason climax the lawyer sought.  Outside the hearing the lawyer told the press that he hadn’t seen enough emotion to satisfy him.

Sorry bud, this is a legal proceeding.  You want Shakespearean Acting.  Two doors down.

* The Ronettes, 1964 (Written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Phil Spector)

Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2009