British Columbia

Dziekanski was calm during flight to Vancouver, Taser inquiry hears

The former judge heading the inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski has promised the victim's mother that he will provide her with a complete accounting of her son's death.
Before police arrived, Robert Dziekanski picked up a small table and put it in the doorway between the customs exit area and a public lounge at Vancouver airport. (Paul Pritchard)

The former judge heading the inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski has promised the victim's mother that he will provide her with a complete accounting of her son's death.

Thomas Braidwood made the promise as the second phase of the inquiry into Dziekanski's death began Monday in Vancouver.

Braidwood also offered his condolences to Sofia Cisowski, Dziekanski's mother.

"As a parent I can imagine nothing more terrible than losing a son or a daughter. May I express my profound condolences for your loss," he said.

Dziekanski died in October 2007 after he was jolted by a Taser several times during a confrontation with four Mounties at the Vancouver airport.

Cisowski told reporters Monday she would appreciate the truth.

"I think everyone tried to lie because they want to save themselves. I have nothing to lose. I lost what I had," she said outside the inquiry venue in downtown Vancouver.

Sofia Cisowski, mother of Robert Dziekanski, says she wants to know the truth about her son's death and hopes the inquiry will shed some answers. ((CBC))

The first witness on Monday, a woman who was on the Frankfurt-to-Vancouver flight with Dziekanski, testified that the Polish man was calm during the flight and slept a lot.

Christiane Hewer said she noticed Dziekanski on the largely empty plane, but he didn't seem out of the ordinary.

"I remember he did all sorts of things, mostly sleeping and he was totally calm. I mean, he didn't attract any attention," Hewer told the inquiry.

The next witnesses were other passengers and airline employees, who testified Dziekanski was tired and trapped by a language barrier but not someone who was drunk, disruptive or aggressive.

Braidwood, a retired B.C. Court of Appeal judge, will spend the next six weeks overseeing the inquiry prompted by Dziekanski's death on Oct. 14, 2007, a death that triggered debate across the country on the police use of stun guns.

First phase of inquiry examined Tasers

The first half of the inquiry, a "study commission" held last year, broadly examined Tasers and their use.

The second phase will focus specifically on what happened to Dziekanski and look for recommendations that could prevent a similar incident.

"They want to know actually what did happen, from the time he's on the ground until he's Tasered and even beyond," said Art Vertlieb, a lawyer for the inquiry.

"The government wants to really know. The mother wants to know. She's entitled to know what happened to her son."

Dziekanski, a 40-year-old construction worker who did not speak English, arrived in Vancouver on the afternoon of Oct. 13 to live with his mother in Kamloops, B.C.

He wandered the airport for hours and became agitated after a series of communications breakdowns kept him in a secure area controlled by the Canada Border Services Agency.

RCMP were called by airport security after an agitated Dziekanski threw a computer to the ground and damaged other airport property.

Four RCMP officers arrived and within 25 seconds stunned him five times with a Taser. A passerby caught the moments before Dziekanski's death on videotape and the footage was seen by tens of thousands of people in Canada and overseas.

The RCMP subsequently made several public assertions about the incident that were proven false by the video recording, including the number of times the Tasers were deployed and the extent to which Dziekanski resisted arrest

Much is known about what happened to Dziekanski before he died — his fear of flying, his wandering around for hours looking for his mother, his inability to communicate with anyone at the airport — but the inquiry will aim to fill in the blanks.

Mounties will testify

A long list of witnesses — including passengers and staff on Dziekanski's flight, customs officials and the four RCMP officers — will detail the events leading up to his death, the officers' actions and how police and other agencies responded in the days and weeks that followed.

Perhaps the most anticipated testimony will come from the four Mounties, whose appearance was in doubt until Crown prosecutors announced last month that none of them would be charged.

The RCMP had said it couldn't participate in the inquiry until that decision, a lingering uncertainty that twice postponed the inquiry. But now the RCMP and Vertlieb say all four officers will appear.

About a dozen lawyers will be at the inquiry, representing each of the four officers, the Canada Border Services Agency, the airport, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Dziekanski's mother.

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer representing Cisowski, said he hopes the proceedings will finally force the four RCMP officers involved to explain why they used their Tasers on the Polish immigrant.

He said there still are many unanswered questions.

"The most obvious one is: Are we going to accept that police officers, within 20 seconds of meeting somebody, have the right to Taser them?"

The RCMP has steadfastly defended its use of Tasers and the actions of the officers involved in Dziekanski's death.

With files from the Canadian Press