Why? The Dziekanski tragedy inquest report

Robert Dziekanski, born Born:April 15, 1967, Bielawa, Poland. Died: Richmond, BC, Canada, October 14, 2007.


The above word is the last audible word said by Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski just before he died at Vancouver International Airport at the hands of overzealous Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers.

“They approached the incident as though responding to a barroom brawl and failed to shift gears when they realized that they were dealing with an obviously distraught traveller. I am equally critical of the policy and training paradigm that fosters such poor decision-making.”- Justice Thomas Braidwood.

Braidwood recently delivered his second of two inquiry reports into the death of Dziekanski. The death of the travel weary, confused and panicked Polish man, at the hands of RCMP officers, has unfortunately cast a dark shadow on all of the RCMP. No matter the situation, the old adage rings true, the indiscretions of the few paint the many with the same brush.

“That is regrettable, because the most important weapon in the arsenal of the police is public support. This tragic case is, at its heart, the story of shameful conduct by a few officers.” – Braidwood wrote.

Being a police officer is a dangerous job with split-second demands.With some friends that are police officers, I always hope they use whatever training and equipment they need so they can come home to their families and friends. However, I also hope they will use their fine judgments in doing so. We have to hold those entrusted in protecting us to higher standards.

Last year we asked if the results of the inquiry would deliver “justice” and closure in the Dziekanski death. We can’t speak to the justice question yet, since no criminal prosecution has been sought of the offending officers. As far as closure, let’s say it is good to have the truth officially out there thanks to Braidwood.

“The RCMP dropped the ball in this event. They outnumbered him four-to-one and were armed and he had a bloody stapler, nevermind his agitated state. Just watch the video, the taser was not used as a last resort, it was used as the first option after only a short attempt at talking with Dziekanski.”- On Deadline, 2009.

It is painful to watch how the Dziekanski situation escalated so quickly when the offending RCMP officers confront him at the airport. He had been in the airport for 10 hours, lost, facing language barriers and slow processing. Though he had an uneventful flight, he had been anxious about flying to Canada to join his mother and start a new life here.

Among Braidwood’s findings:

  • Richmond firefighters responding to the call for medical assistance at the airport were surprised that the airport’s Emergency Response Service was not on scene, as they always arrived before them.
  • one RCMP officer refused firefighter requests to have the handcuffs removed from Dziekanski’s body, saying that he had been violent, though he was clearly unconscious and likely dead. “In my view, his refusal was unjustified,” Braidwood said.

Here is how Braidwood reports the fateful last minutes of Dziekanski’s life:

  • Cst . Bentley, assuming the role of contact officer, took an appropriate first step by saying, “ Hi, how are you, sir? How’ s it going, bud?” Owing to the language barrier, Mr. Dziekanski did not respond. At that point, Cst . Millington unilaterally intervened as contact officer, making hand gestures for Mr. Dziekanski to calm down, asking for “passport” and “identification,” and miming writing with a pen.
  • Video shows Mr. Dziekanski making a very tentative downward movement toward the nearby luggage, which I am satisfied was his attempt to comply with Cst . Millington’ s demand to retrieve his travel documents.
  • As Mr. Dziekanski bent down, Cpl. Robinson stepped in and took charge. He said, “ No. Stop” in a stern, authoritative voice, and made a pointing gesture with his arm. Mr. Dziekanski stopped going toward his luggage. According t o the Pritchard video he returned to a normal upright stance, with his arms at his side, engaging in eye contact with t he officers. In my view he was complying with Cpl. Robinson’ s direction. It was not necessary for Cpl. Robinson to intervene at all, and even if it was, given t he circumstances it was an inappropriately aggressive reaction.
From here we leave you with the video that captures the above and those last moments of Dziekanski’s life.

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