British Columbia

Man who shot Dziekanski video gets journalism award

The man who used a digital camera to record the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport says he feels guilty he didn't try to help the Polish immigrant even though others honoured his actions Tuesday with a citizen-journalism award.

Paul Pritchard says he feels guilty he didn't help immigrant Tasered by RCMP

Paul Pritchard, right, accompanied by his lawyer, Paul Pearson, held a press conference in November 2007 to demand police release his video. ((CBC) )
The man who used a digital camera to record the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport says he feels guilty he didn't try to help the Polish immigrant even though others honoured his actions Tuesday with a citizen-journalism award.

Dziekanski, 40, died Oct. 14, 2007, following several shocks from a Taser four RCMP officers used to subdue him after he caused a disturbance.

The incident might never have received much attention if Paul Pritchard had not decided to grab his digital camera and start recording the actions of the distraught Dziekanski before police arrived.

Dziekanski did not speak English and, after a long flight from Poland, had been left to wander for hours in the restricted zone of the arrivals area after being processed by immigration authorities while his mother waited for him in another part of the airport.

After the incident, Pritchard, who was on his way to his family's home in Victoria and had been waiting in the international arrivals lounge at the time, handed his video over to the RCMP to use in their investigation. The police promised it would be returned in 48 hours.

But when the RCMP's public statements about the incident conflicted with what Pritchard and other witnesses said they saw, Pritchard demanded the RCMP return the video so that he could release it to the public.

When the police refused, saying releasing the video would compromise their investigation, Pritchard hired a lawyer, held a news conference and threatened to use legal action to get it back.

The release of the 10-minute video, which contradicted the police version of the incident, led to widespread public outrage around the world and diplomatic tensions between Canada and Poland. It also resulted in the deepest scrutiny of the RCMP in decades in the form of a special inquiry into the incident, led by retired British Columbia Appeal Court Justice Thomas R. Braidwood.

Citizen journalism award

On Tuesday evening in Toronto, Pritchard's work in documenting what happened and waging a legal battle against the RCMP for the release of his video was honoured by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

The organization gave Pritchard its first-ever award for citizen journalism, which recognizes the contributions of ordinary people in the field of journalism.

After the video was made public, Paul Pritchard said he wanted to step out of the media spotlight and find a job. ((CBC))
But Pritchard is still questioning his role in what happened and the choices he made that night.

Two years after the incident, Pritchard told CBC News he still wonders what might have happened had he decided to talk to the distraught Polish immigrant rather than videotape him in distress.

"I don't consider myself a hero, and to be honest, I'm not completely happy with the fact that I did that," said Pritchard. "Maybe instead of grabbing a camera, I could have gone and talked to him.

"If I feel I did something wrong, or feel I didn't do enough, I think the effort I put in afterwards is enough for me to live with that … I did everything I possibly could do."

Pritchard did not testify at the Braidwood inquiry. Instead, he spent the past two years travelling abroad, deliberately avoiding coverage of the incident, he said.

When Pritchard released the video, he received a payment of several thousand dollars from three television networks: CBC, CTV and Global. At the time, Pritchard said he planned to use the money for medical care for his seriously ill father, who died four months later.

Video conflicted with police statements

The 10-minute Pritchard video, shot in three segments, showed a distraught Dziekanski in the airport arrivals lounge attempting to smash a computer and some furniture while several people attempted to communicate with him before police eventually arrive.

Four RCMP officers subdue Robert Dziekanski after stunning him with a Taser on Oct. 14, 2007, at the Vancouver airport. ((Paul Pritchard))
Before the video was released, the RCMP repeatedly said that there were only three RCMP officers involved in the incident and that the Taser was only deployed twice after Dziekanski attacked the officers.

But the video showed four RCMP officers rushed in and confronted Dziekanski, who backed up toward a counter. Dziekanski then faced the officers with what later turned out to be a stapler in one hand.  

Immediately, there was a loud crack from a Taser, followed by Dziekanski screaming and convulsing as he stumbled and fell to the floor.

Another loud crack can be heard, as an officer appears to fire the Taser at Dziekanski again. Then, as the officers kneel on top of Dziekanski and handcuff him, he continues to scream and convulse on the floor.

One officer is heard to say, "Hit him again. Hit him again," and there is another loud cracking sound.

Evidence at the inquiry revealed the Taser was eventually fired five times at Dziekanski.

After he was subdued, the RCMP left him handcuffed on the floor, where he died before medical help arrived. The official cause of death was listed as "sudden death during restraint" in the coroner's post-mortem report.

A decision by B.C.'s criminal justice branch concluded that while the officers were involved in Dziekanski's death, there was not enough evidence to support laying criminal charges

The public inquiry into the incident is expected to release its report in the new year.