This is something of a confession.
When I first saw the bystander video, from October 2007, of Robert Dziekanski being tasered by four Mounties at Vancouver International Airport, I was as shocked as the next person. It’s a terrible scene. I certainly didn’t think Dziekanski’s death was deliberate but I was basically okay with the Mounties being somehow punished for it.
"Curt knew he was out on a limb with his take on the Dziekanski story and I understood why. Nobody else really cared if an injustice was done to these four guys and so no journalist had followed the minutiae of each court appearance and reported on the absurdity."
It’s just so easy, in our fast-moving digital age, to rush to judgement and move on. We see a story come across our news feed, quickly scan, decide who’s the victim, who’s the bad guy…and off we go. Judgement passed, civic duty done. Life and information flow too fast for us to stop very often to challenge our judgements. But my work over the last decade has challenged mine.
Months after the Dziekanski incident, I began work on a documentary about the RCMP, Mounties Under Fire. I got familiar with RCMP training and came to believe that the four Mounties at YVR that day were following their training. Whether they could have found another option, they didn’t do anything wrong. That conclusion would be supported years later when all police training in British Columbia was retooled to include more de-escalation training, as a result of the Braidwood Commission on the Death of Robert Dziekanski.
But as well as being highly critical of RCMP training, Braidwood raked the four Mounties over the coals, arguing they couldn't possibly have believed Dziekanski was a threat and questioning their honesty before the Commission. Were they telling the truth about that night, or concocting a story to make them look better? He stopped short of saying “collusion” but the inference was there.
"They are not murderers and I don’t believe they’re liars. I would argue that these four men have been punished enough for being imperfect police officers that night in October 2007."
When the Mounties were each separately charged with perjury over their testimony at Braidwood, it was all getting a bit fuzzy and complicated and I stopped paying careful attention – like most of Canada. The bystander video was so awful. And the Mounties didn’t look much more lovable during their uncomfortable perp walks into the inquiry. Whatever happens, happens. Too many other news stories to click on.
Then during the production of Lost on Arrival, Curt Petrovich hauled me back into the story, made me process all the tedious details of the four Mounties’ journey through the justice system since 2007.
Today, like Curt, I don’t believe the Mounties lied – and perjury is the only charge they ever faced. I don’t believe there was a deliberate witch-hunt, only that the wheels of the justice system got rolling awfully fast, fuelled by an outraged public. And they flattened four men who didn’t commit a crime.
You see, the perjury charges were based on Crown’s theory that the four had colluded together to coordinate their stories. But why would you do that, and get it wrong, when you knew there was videotape showing the event in its entirety? And the Mounties knew, they seized the videotape that night! Somehow the public lost sight of that fact.
Still, two of the four were convicted of perjury, two acquitted. How exactly does that work? Four men collude together but it’s proven in court that two did not? As the documentary points out, it might make sense inside a court of law but it’s absurd.
When we started making this documentary, Curt knew he was out on a limb with his take on the Dziekanski story and I understood why. Nobody else really cared if an injustice was done to these four guys and so no journalist had followed the minutiae of each court appearance and reported on the absurdity. But as I dug in, reading Curt’s research and following his logic, I was most happy to join him on the limb. And embarrassed that it had taken me so long.
Then in January 2017, the limb got more comfortable. Monty Robinson lost an appeal on his perjury conviction but one of the three judges registered a dissenting opinion: "The troubling fact in this case is that the differing outcomes followed careful consideration of substantially the same evidence.” If it were up to Honourable Justice Willcock, he would set aside Robinson’s conviction and order a new trial.
The two Mounties who were convicted – Monty Robinson and Kwesi Millington – are asking to be heard before the Supreme Court of Canada. There’s no guarantee their cases will be heard, or if they are, the Court will look deeper than legal technicalities. But at least Willcock’s dissenting opinion opens the door.
I hope our documentary offers the possibility that at least the four Mounties may win a new trial in the court of public opinion.
Remember, they have never been charged with doing anything wrong during the Dziekanski incident — whatever opinion we may hold of what could have, should have happened that night. They are not murderers and I don’t believe they’re liars. But they became pariahs as we all leaped quickly to judgement and moved on to the next story. I would argue that these four men have been punished enough for being imperfect police officers that night in October 2007.