Settlement, scholarship, new Taser policy end lawsuit

RCMP apologizes to Dziekanski's mother

Police force stops short of accepting responsibility for the death
Zofia Cisowski said Thursday that she accepts the RCMP's apology

By Suzanne Fournier
The Province

Zofia Cisowski on Thursday. (Photo: CBC News.)
Zofia Cisowski on Thursday. (Photo: CBC News.)
RCMP apology falls short

Edmonton Journal

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass offered an apology Thursday to Zofia Cisowski, the mother of Robert Dziekanski.

"On behalf of the RCMP, I want to apologize for our role in the tragic death of your son. Your son arrived from Poland eager to begin a new life here in Canada. We are deeply sorry he did not have that opportunity."

Considering the ramifications of this dark chapter in contemporary Canadian history, it should have been Commissioner William Elliot who made that statement. You have to wonder what pressing matters impelled the leader of the force to download public responsibility to an underling for one of the blackest marks ever chalked up against our national police force. But then, Canadians have become used to being disappointed in an institution that has suffered numerous setbacks in recent years at its own hands.

The apology should have been extended to all Canadians, especially those who have doggedly fought to reveal the truth. Paul Pritchard, who digitally captured Dziekanski and the police on his video camera deserves a special vote of thanks for sterling and indispensable citizen involvement.

On a recent visit to Edmonton, Elliot opined that the Mounties' "transformation strategy" is working. Let's hope whatever that might actually mean includes never again repeating the sorry events of the Dziekanski affair, which has left a man dead and a nation embarrassed internationally. Throughout the 2½ years since the 40-year-old immigrant lost his life after being Tasered five times by RCMP officers, those who have questioned the force have been systematically tarred as little short of unpatriotic. Now we know who was right and who was wrong. In addition to the RCMP mea culpa, letters of apology were also tendered by the B.C. solicitor general and the Canada Border Services Agency, organizations that also bear a degree of responsibility for their respective actions and stonewalling activities.

In tandem with the apology was a civil financial settlement tendered to Ms. Cisowski by the federal government — which means taxpayers have paid materially for this nonsense. Bass said Thursday that he hopes the apology and money "marks the beginning of the healing process for Mrs. Cisowski, the RCMP and the public. It is critically important that the public has confidence in the police if they are to be able to work collaboratively to ensure public safety. We hope that the steps announced today will work toward this goal."

That's a wish that all of us might share. For her part, Cisowski was nothing short of gracious in her appearance at the same Richmond, B.C., news conference. "There was not a single day I did not cry and analyze what could have been done to avoid this tragedy," she said before losing it to her emotions. The RCMP will contribute $20,000 for a scholarship in Dziekanski's name at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops — "my son's legacy," she calls it, adding it will be part of her healing process.

Canadians can take some comfort in affirming that, in the end, the system delivered a measure of justice, if over a long, rocky and less than edifying process. Lives cannot be returned, however, and the true measure of the awful Dziekanski affair will be whether lessons — from Taser use to personal accountability and professionalism — will be learned. For many of us, the horrific 11 hours spent by Robert Dziekanski in the Vancouver airport will remain an indelible stain on the good name of Canada for years to come. A man and his family were badly let down, and we won't forget easily, nor should we. — 2 April 2010

British Columbia's top RCMP officer apologized Thursday to Robert Dziekanski's mother for "our role in the tragic death" of her son and vowed to change Taser policy and practice.

In return, Zofia Cisowski accepted the RCMP's formal apology and has settled her civil lawsuit against the RCMP, the Canada Border Service Agency and Vancouver International Airport with an undisclosed financial settlement.

Speaking at a news conference in a private aviation company boardroom, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass said, "Mrs. Cisowski, on behalf of the RCMP, I want to apologize for our role in the tragic death of your son, Mr. Robert Dziekanski, at the Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007."

Bass went on to say: "Your son arrived from Poland eager to begin a new life here in Canada. We are deeply sorry he did not have that opportunity."

Bass emphasized "the RCMP has learned much from this tragic incident."

Dziekanski, 40, was Tasered and restrained by four RCMP officers within a minute of their arrival at the scene in response to a bystander's 911 call in which exaggerated and inaccurate information about the distraught man was given.

Dziekanski, who had hoped to emigrate to Canada to be with his mother, began to turn blue after he was handcuffed facedown by police. He died without any resuscitation efforts attempted by the four officers at the scene.

His mother, who had waited hours for him at the airport without any news of his arrival, had been told by airport officials to go home to Kamloops. She was no longer at the airport when her son died.

Wiping away tears, Cisowski accepted the apology and said "since my son died at Vancouver airport, ... there was not a single day that I did not cry and analyze what could be done to prevent this tragedy.

"I believe the settlement and the apologies given by federal and provincial authorities will help begin the healing process and clear the path toward my future," said Cisowski, a Kamloops janitor who has suffered grave health effects and has not been able to work since the death of her only son.

Traveller Paul Pritchard captured the Tasering and death in a graphic video recording which the RCMP confiscated and refused to return until Pritchard obtained a court order. He then released it to the media himself.

International outrage toward the RCMP, as well as border and airport officials, led to a lengthy public inquiry before former judge Thomas Braidwood. His report goes to the B.C. government May 31 and will be made public in June.

Cisowski's lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj, said details of the financial settlement remain confidential by mutual agreement.

Cisowski announced that the RCMP has contributed $20,000 to a scholarship in her son's name at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

Cisowski also has settled her lawsuit against the airport and the CBSA.

The airport's lawyer, Dwight Stewart, said the airport did not contribute financially to the settlement, but the CBSA did, according to its spokeswoman Hannah Mahoney.

2 April 2010 — Return to Cover