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Curt Petrovich on Tasers and the death at YVR

National reporter Curt Petrovich. (CBC)
Curt Petrovich has been covering the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport.

He's been asking the RCMP, YVR and political leaders for answers.

This is your chance to ask our national reporter about this story.

Use the form below to send in your question, and check back to read Curt's answers.

If you wish to comment on the story instead, please join this discussion.

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Comments: (11)

Donald Wilson (Vernon_BC) wrote:

Q| Hi Curt, My family and I are overwhelmed with shock, anger and grief over the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport. He died a horrible and unnecessary death. We want to see an independent inquiry into this. Not another RCMP cover-up. My question to you Curt, is who can we contact regarding our request for an independent inquiry?
Thank you for this opportunity to ask this.

A| As you know, the Solicitor General has called for a public inquiry. I think for some people it came as a surprise because, until the announcement, the positions I heard from both federal and provincial governments were essentially the same: there were already a number of separate investigations underway.

How much this inquiry satisfies some people's demand for answers will depend on the terms of reference and the latitude taken by the commissioner to explore beyond the RCMP's involvement that night.

Posted November 19, 2007 12:46 PM

Ed Robbins (Nakusp) wrote:

Q| I worked for 32 years as a Firefighter. During that time we were instructed by the city legal department, that because we had "Medical Intervention Training" ie: CPR, that if we failed to aid a person in distress it was at minimum open for legal action and most likely criminal action.

Why, time after time, do the RCMP just sit and wait, for whatever time, untill ambulance arrives. That simply guarantees the victim is dead.

Why are RCMP always subject to different laws than we are? Are they above, just ordinary moral laws?


A|You raise an important point. It's not clear what the RCMP officers did to ensure Mr. Dziekanski could breathe and that their method of restraining him by placing a knee over his neck was appropriate.

When we initially asked the RCMP about similar situations we we're told that all RCMP officers have first aid training.

It's not clear from the video that any first aid was administered to Mr. Dziekanski before the paramedics arrived.

Some police forces such as the Edmonton police service will bring ambulance crews with them if there is a good chance a Taser will be used. They're not alone. It seemed clear from the video that there was an anticipation the Taser would be used in this case.

Posted November 17, 2007 04:05 PM

Jo-Ann (Calgary) wrote:

Q| I have read that there will be four inquiries. I also read that the CBSA was not able to make comments until their own investigation was complete. Do you know if the results of this internal investigation will be made public. The incident took place in area under the CBSA jurisdiction. The custom and immigration officials have an extraordinary amount of power and authority in our country, powers that have undergone immense change since 911, and authority that I believe is little understood by ordinary travelers. Will the CBSA have to make a public statement about their lack of control in their secure area of the Vancouver Airport?

A| The short answer is no.

It could be left to the minister responsible (Stockwell Day) to deal with the fall out over the role - if any - played by CBSA.

I think that while a statement might be what some are interested in, the kind of answers that would satisfy most people are unlikely to be produced except in an inquiry.

And it's possible CBSA will keep any details sufficiently vague for the reasons of security you mention.

Posted November 17, 2007 12:34 PM

Steve Busch (Revelstoke_BC) wrote:

Q| I was always under the impression that the best way to dissolve tension was with calm. I know a paramedic once told me the last thing needed in a crisis is more excited people, thus it is imperative for professionals to be the calm part of the equation. In this case were the RCMP actions not clearly the opposite of calm?

Also in all the taser videos shown recently it appears the victim has a violent and uncontrollable reaction, if a suspect cannot contain their violent reaction from a Taser, how can it help the police contain them?

A| All good questions. The security expert and former VPD superintendent I spoke to noted that what he saw should never have been a police matter.

Further he observed a security guard standing like a wall in Mr. Dziekanski's path and, when the police arrived, rather than simply walk around the hand rail to get to Mr. Dziekanski, they each hopped over it. That sent a clear message to Mr. Dziekanski that they meant business.

But the question of why the RCMP officers took less than 30 seconds to use the Taser instead of talking or negotiating with a man who's only apparent weapon was a stapler is what an inquiry might explain. Those opposed to the use of the Taser in these situations suggest it's being employed as a tool of compliance so police do not have to risk getting injured.

As for Mr. Dziekanski's reaction to the Taser hits...the police initially described him as being combative and struggling. Whether that, in fact, is the case or it's an involuntary reaction to being electrocuted is something an Inquest or an inquiry will have to determine.

But clearly the police were physically struggling with him on the floor presumably with some risk of injury to themselves. So in my mind it's not clear how using the Taser in this case was supposed to prevent injury to the officers, if that in fact is the argument for using it.

Posted November 16, 2007 07:03 PM

Mike Stefureak (Vancouver_BC) wrote:

Q| Who are the four officers that were involved in the death of this would be immigrant? How can justice be served when we don't know the identities of the men who killed him? Why has no one demanded that they explain their actions to the country who's honour they've destroyed?

We need to see justice, not another cover-up where the mounties claim it's an internal matter best dealt with internally. In the United States we would already know who pulled the trigger, why not here?

A| We are told the officers involved in this incident are on regular active duty. The RCMP says they will testify under oath at the coroner's inquest about what happened the night Mr. Dziekanski died.

It would be unusual, to say the least, for the RCMP to publicly identify any members who haven't been charged with any criminal offence or violation of the RCMP act, especially while the incident is still under investigation.

Posted November 16, 2007 12:47 PM

Ann (Chilliwack_BC) wrote:

Q| Is there not enough other items of news interest to report on? Media keeps reporting this as headline news and I even saw it running on CNN all day yesterday. This man at Vancouver Airport was out of control, throwing things around, and in this day and age anyone who is stupid enough to behave like this in an airport should expect some repercussions. The police should not be putting themselves in harm's way without some ability to protect themselves. They did not shoot the man. They tasered him. Most likely he had some health problems so until all details are available maybe the media should back off the RCMP and police agencies in general and let them do what they are trained to. Protect and Serve.

A| I think the RCMP would agree with you. And it's debatable how much interest would have been generated if Mr. Dziekanski hadn't died moments after being stunned twice by the officers who arrived on the scene.

But I would suggest Mr. Dziekanski's death struck a chord with people around the world for a variety of reasons, not all related to the scrutiny of the actions of the Police that night.

There is also a lot of debate about the ability of the Police to investigate themselves, and about the Taser itself.

I also think it's relevant to examine what the public was told about Mr. Dziekanski's behaviour when the police confronted him, and what can actually be seen. Did he continue to struggle and be combative after falling to the ground as the RCMP said? It doesn't appear that way.

But you raise an important point about not having all the details. While you suggest the media should "back off", it's been my experience that unless you ask the questions, you don't get answers.

Posted November 16, 2007 12:07 PM

Tom Ray (Sechelt_BC) wrote:

Q| Why does it seem to always take so very long for a coroners inquest to be convened, much less to finish a report?

A| Inquests are convened at the discretion of the Coroner, unless they are related to a death in Police custody. Those are automatic.

As to why it takes as long as it does to set a date — the Ian Bush inquest was held 19 months after he was killed, and some can take two years — that seems to be a factor related the speed of the agencies doing the investigations for the Coroner, such as the police, and the work load of the Coroner's office.

In the case of inquests I've covered, the finding by the jury and its recommendations have been rendered not long after all the evidence has been presented - within hours. We are told the inquest into Mr. Dziekanski's death will be held within one year.

Posted November 16, 2007 11:30 AM

Bonnie (VancouverIsland) wrote:

Q| Hello Curt, Glad to hear the CBC is finally going to be talking to the other people involved in this ongoing taser story rather than to continue vilifying the RCMP. I have yet to hear the CBC talk to anyone from Securicor or whoever has the contract for security at the Airport.

Can you talk to a mental health worker regarding the state of this man? Clearly he was suffering from something - mental illness perhaps. How come nobody makes any reference to his behaviour which was definitely not normal.

Just by way of comparison, I spent 7 hours in the Nanaimo Regional Hospital with a broken foot sitting next to me was a two year old with a broken knee. This two year old was screaming in pain for 7 hours with no water or pain medication given to him, I was in pain and we were being shuffled from waiting room to waiting room. My point is, if a two year old can sit and wait for help while in such discomfort what is wrong with a 40 year old man who is so incapable that he cannot navigate his way out of an airport? What if the mother had been in a car accident and was unable to pick him up? This has nothing to do with his inability to speak English. Please follow up with a mental health expert on this issue.

A|You raise the question we've all been asking, and that is "what was wrong with Mr. Dziekanski."

We've been told he'd never been on an airplane in his life. We've been told his journey took two days. I don't think any of us are aware of his medical history. I think it would be pure speculation to suggest what was going on inside Mr. Dziekanski's mind, or to offer an explanation about why he appeared disoriented and distraught.

Posted November 16, 2007 10:08 AM

Andrew S (Vancouver) wrote:

Q| Do you think that Robert Dziekanski deserves any blame for throwing his fit in an airport - one of the highest security places, with a high level of paranoia a person can go?

A| There are so many questions we've been asking since that early Sunday morning when Mr. Dziekanski died. I think your question assumes a number things that none of us understands yet.

It's not clear why Mr. Dziekanski appeared to behave as erratically as he did. His inability to be understood, the extraordinary length of time he'd spent in the airport, and his inexperience with international air travel may offer part of the explanation.

But as the police noted immediately, and as anyone can see in the video, Mr. Dziekanski appears physically distressed. He is pacing, sweating and breathing heavily. I'm not a doctor. I don't know Mr. Dziekanski's medical history. But he doesn't look well. I'm not sure Mr. Dziekanski wasn't experiencing a some sort of panic or anxiety attack. If that's the case, it would be difficult to "blame" him for "throwing a fit."

Posted November 16, 2007 08:38 AM

Fergus (Victoria) wrote:

Q| What is the offial cause of death for the Taser victim at YVR?

A| The BC Coroner's service conducted an autopsy and the pathologist involved could identify no obvious cause of death. There was no trauma or disease present in Mr. Dziekanski's body. We were also told by the lawyer for Mr. Dziekanski's mother, that a toxicological test, found no drugs or alcohol in his system. The Coroner's service acknowledges that report was shared with the family, but won't comment on it publicly.

Jeff Dolan, B.C.'s assistant deputy chief Coroner, says the pathologist is now examining microscopic samples to determine a cause of death, if one can be found.

It's an interesting question, because there has been some study into the effect of multiple Taser hits on blood chemistry which can affect cardiac function. The pathologist could make that conclusion.

But ultimately it will be up to a jury at an inquest to make any official finding. This is particularly important because whether the pathologist has an opinion or not, the jury will have to weigh the evidence of the circumstances leading up to Mr. Dziekanski's death to make a conclusion as to why he died.

I'm told by the Coroner's office that it's committed to holding an inquest within one year of Mr. Dziekanski's death — by October next year. The expectation is that it would be held by the summer.

Posted November 16, 2007 08:10 AM

Jennifer O'Rourke (Nanaimo_BC) wrote:

Q| The fact that Robert Dz did not speak English seems to have been used as an excuse for not acting or not seeking an interpreter, but the simplest way to find out what language he did speak was to ask for his passport. This could be done through gestures- obviously Canada Customs and Immigration had already done this successfully.

The RCMP spokesperson claimed that it wasn't possible to find out what language he spoke!! Why didn't someone take this simple step and find the right interpreter for him??

A|We have asked these questions to both the RCMP and those responsible for YVR Security and for the most part their answers are the same.

They say they have, and are continuing to investigate what happened that night, and they are cooperating with the Coroner's service which will conduct an inquest.

The answers to those questions, we are told, can be expected in that forum. I don't know what was going through the minds of the four RCMP officers who entered the terminal that night. I think it's certain they didn't expect Mr. Dziekanski would die after being stunned. Perhaps obtaining the services of an interpreter would have been their next step after subduing him. It is another question that we are told cannot be answered until a Coroner's inquest.

Posted November 16, 2007 08:00 AM

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