British Columbia

Woman who fought for justice after son's Tasering death at Vancouver airport dies in Poland

The mother of a Polish man who died during an altercation with RCMP officers at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007 never got over her son's death, say those who knew her.

Zofia Cisowski became the face of a movement pushing for police accountability after her son’s death

Zofia Cisowski, Robert Dziekanski's mother, died in Poland at the age of 73. She's pictured here holding a photograph of her son. (Kiran Dhillon / CBC)

The mother of a Polish man who died during an altercation with RCMP officers at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007 never got over her son's death, say those who knew her. 

Zofia Cisowski, who lived in Kamloops, B.C., died in Poland after suffering a stroke while visiting family last week. She was 73.

"It was kind of shocking for everyone," said Jurek Baltakis, a long-time friend in Kamloops and executor of her will, who confirmed her death to CBC News on Wednesday.

"She had lots of life in front of her."

Cisowski was thrust into the limelight when her only son, Robert Dziekanski, died after four Mounties repeatedly used a Taser to restrain him at Vancouver's airport. 

Dziekanski, 40, was on his way from Poland to B.C. to join his mother, who was waiting in the arrivals area of the airport. 

Four RCMP officers confronted Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport in October 2007, when the Polish immigrant was repeatedly stunned with a Taser and died. (submitted by Paul Pritchard)

Lawyer Walter Kosteckyj worked closely with Cisowski over the years in her pursuit for answers about what happened to her son. 

"She always had a darkness to her after the passing of her son and that was something that just never ever left her," Kosteckyj said.

"They were very close, as a single mom having an only child. It was just utterly heartbreaking to her."

Bill Sundhu, a lawyer and close friend who helped Cisowski, echoed Baltakis' sentiments.

"She was very strong. She had a great sense of humour actually. She saw a lot of humour in life, but at her core, I think that, you know, when I say she was a grieving mother, you could see it physically and mentally. It bore heavily on her. There was a darkness about her," said the former provincial court judge.

"But she found strength from others as well, people supporting her."

Cisowski's legacy

The incident was captured on amateur video, which fuelled public anger, and Cisowski became the face of a movement pushing for police accountability. 

The government ordered a public inquiry headed by former justice Thomas Braidwood, which eventually led to convictions for two of the RCMP officers — for colluding to make up testimony — and changed the way police use Tasers in B.C. 

 "That's her legacy," said Baltakis. 

"She was not a very highly educated person but she was very passionate."

Sunhu believes Cisowski's perseverance won't be forgotten. 

"I think she'll be remembered as a courageous woman, a grieving woman, a mother that lost her son, but that resulted in her being the symbol of significant change," he said.

A recent photo of Zofia Cisowski, who was visiting family in Poland when she died in November 2019. (Submitted by Jurek Baltakis)

Cisowski immigrated to Canada in 1999 and eventually settled in Kamloops, where she continued to live after her son's death.

She regularly returned to Poland to visit extended family and kept a small apartment in the town of Gliwice. 

Baltakis said she had left on the trip a couple of months ago and was planning to return before Christmas. She died in hospital after the stroke on Nov. 18. 

The Polish community in Kamloops is planning a private memorial on Friday to coincide with her funeral in Poland. 

"She will be buried together with her son and they will be reunited," said Baltakis. 

With files from Jenifer Norwell and Daybreak Kamloops