RCMP distances itself from officers' lawsuit over Dziekanski inquiry

The RCMP in British Columbia is distancing itself from a lawsuit against the province launched by four of its officers at the centre of an inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski.
Clockwise from top left, Const. Gerry Rundel, Const. Bill Bentley, Cpl. Monty Robinson and Const. Kwesi Millington were never charged in the death of Robert Dziekanski. (CBC)

The RCMP in British Columbia is distancing itself from a lawsuit against the province launched by four of its officers at the centre of an inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski.

Lawyers for the four officers have initiated the lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court arguing that no provincial inquiry has jurisdiction to make findings of misconduct against federal police.

Dziekanski died on Oct. 14, 2007, after the RCMP officers used a Taser to subdue him at Vancouver International Airport.

At issue is the accountability of the RCMP. The Mounties work for a federal institution but are hired by the provincial government and paid by provincial taxpayers. When there are complaints, the RCMP is not subject to the same complaints process that other police forces in the province are.

A provincially mandated inquiry was called in the wake of Dziekanski's death and is being overseen by Thomas Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal justice. Closing arguments are to be heard June 19.

Braidwood has warned that his final report may find that the officers acted "inappropriately aggressively," that they "misrepresented" what happened with Dziekanski and gave testimony that was "self-serving and misleading."

Sgt. Tim Shields, the RCMP's spokesman in B.C., says the force recognizes the jurisdiction of the Braidwood inquiry. ((CBC))

But in their lawsuit, the four RCMP officers claim they are answerable only to the federal government and are seeking an order to stop Braidwood's inquiry from finding them at fault. Their lawyers argue that the province has no jurisdiction to assess misconduct.

But Sgt. Tim Shields, the RCMP's official spokesman in B.C., said the RCMP disagrees with that position.

"The position of the RCMP is that the RCMP will co-operate fully with the inquiry and is also recognizing the jurisdiction of the inquiry as having authority," Shields told the CBC's Terry Milewski.

Asked why the lawyers for the four men were arguing the contrary, Shields said: "These lawyers are representing the four officers; they're not representing the RCMP."

While Shields acknowledged the lawyers are paid with taxpayers' money, the force itself has no power to stop them from contradicting RCMP policy, he said.

In fact, the RCMP accepted the inquiry's authority before it even began.

In February 2008, according to internal RCMP emails released under access to information laws, the commanding officer of the RCMP in B.C., Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass, rejected advice from RCMP headquarters in Ottawa suggesting that the RCMP should not co-operate if the province called an inquiry.

"Frankly, I don't care what Ottawa's position on it is at this stage. The Provincial Force will co-operate," Bass wrote. "I think we should avoid any legalistic jargon which leaves any room for suggestion that we may opt out at some point or under some circumstances."

A final report by Braidwood is expected in the fall.