The Dziekanski Taser Tragedy: Baseless finger-pointing

By Mischa Popoff on May 28, 2009

A year and a half later and Robert Dziekanski’s calamitous death is still making headlines. There’s no such thing as too much coverage when someone dies tragically, but the notion being perpetuated that the officers who responded to Dziekanski’s still unexplained fit of violence are in any way to blame for his death must be laid to rest.

Some experts have testified at the Braidwood inquiry that Dziekanski was perfectly “coherent” and “responding normally” when he was “unjustly” Tasered by overzealous officers. The implication is that the RCMP is staffed with bullies who habitually set out to inflict harm on innocent people. 

Missing from the coverage of this story is Dziekanski’s own role in his demise. Even before the oft-aired video came out my only thought was: “An international airport is a bad place to throw a hissy fit.”

Evidently some of the “experts” testifying against the RCMP missed the first half of the video in which we see an enraged man wielding a wooden table which he tries to smash a plate-glass window with. Dziekanski then grabs a computer which he smashes onto the floor. He yells and behaves in a threatening manner which causes onlookers to swear in disbelief.

Too many in the media have stated inaccurately that Dziekanski “dropped the computer,” as if he merely had a case of “butter fingers.” Please. He threw it, just as he had thrown the table. And, whether or not the officers saw him do this, they could plainly see the results strewn on the floor when they arrived. And that was Dziekanski’s first big mistake.

After the vandalism, the video shows a man unwilling to communicate with officers of the law. How is it relevant that Dziekanski didn’t speak English? If you were in a foreign land and four policemen approached you, not with weapons drawn, but holding out a hand with an obvious desire to communicate, would you turn and flee? Well, Dziekanski did. He tried to escape. Second big mistake.

It hardly matters that he was in a poor mental state. The RCMP’s job isn’t to discern the history of an event rapidly unfolding before them; their job is to protect the public, and to do so with minimal risk to themselves.  

The Tasering officer asks, “Can I Taser him?” Some in the media claim this demonstrates that the officer entered the situation with a prejudice to Taser someone that night. But the officer’s reaction upon entering the scene is better described as quick thinking. Indeed, Canadians should feel reassured that our RCMP don’t go off half-cocked, even in the heat of the moment. Instead they ask for permission to use force.

The officer waits, many say not long enough, but he waits nonetheless, until Dziekanski tries to flee. Then the Taser is deployed.

Should the officer have waited for Dziekanski to throw something else, or to actually harm someone before using the Taser? Let’s face it, some would have the officer wait until Dziekanski had a good head start down a hallway or out of the building through an emergency exit. But hesitation simply has no place in effective law-enforcement.

To imply that there are bullies, or worse, murderers, in the RCMP, is appalling. And raising it to the political level is disingenuous opportunism, plain and simple.

In fact, Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh’s surprise visit to the inquiry two weeks ago, and his accusation that lawyers defending the RCMP are not “acting in the public interest,” should’ve been reported as political interference in a court case. Instead, Dosanjh − the man who introduced the Taser in Canada − is portrayed in the media as a sort of hero of the little man. 

God rest Dziekanski. Pray for his poor mother in her time of mourning, but leave out the baseless finger-pointing. All of the officers involved deserve the best defence money can buy.

If any of the officers did not follow procedures, if the procedures for using a Taser need to be changed, or if the Taser itself is found to be a faulty piece of equipment, then the appropriate action needs to be taken. But surely anyone who watches the video can see that Dziekanski made the drastic mistakes, not the officers, and that his death was an accident.

The witch hunt against the officers and the RCMP is counter-productive and meaningless. It ignores at least 50 per cent of the facts.


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