Saturday, November 17, 2007

Killing at Vancouver Airport a wake up call to all Canadians

The senseless killing of Robert Dzienkanski at Vancouver International Airport is something that has left many Canadians both afraid and ashamed.

Ashamed that bureaucratic indifference and incompetence by Canadian Border Service Agents, Vancouver Airport staff and finally the RCMP led directly to Robert Dzienkanski’s death. Afraid because what happened to him could easily happen to you or me or any one of our friends or loved ones.

The four RCMP officers who tasered Robert Dzienkanski have been assigned other duties. They should be fired. Let’s go through the litany of their mistakes. First of all they ignored several individuals who tried to explain that Mr. Dzienkanski could not speak English, secondly without provocation they tasered him twice and then they piled on top of him putting their weight onto his back and neck. Finally as he died these four RCMP officers did nothing to try and revive Mr. Dzienkanski even though they are all supposed to have CPR training.

Their breath taking incompetence and callousness deserves their termination. However the subsequent actions of the RCMP are also noteworthy, such their extreme reticence to release the video footage of Mr. Dzienkanski’s killing and the fact that this video footage, which was released only after court action was taken, showed none too surprisingly that the RCMP had in their official statements seriously misrepresented what had in fact occurred.

But it would be unfair to blame just the RCMP. There are the Customs Agents who let Mr. Dzienkanski loiter for over six hours near a baggage claim area without anyone trying to find out why. The answer was that his mother Zofia Cisowski had mistakenly told her son to wait at the baggage carousel forgetting that when flying internationally you pick up your baggage in a secure area and then have another layer of agents to go through before you can meet your loved ones.

So there was Robert Dzienkanski’s mother less than a hundred yards away from her son pleading with Customs Officers and presumably Vancouver Airport staff to let her see her son. The unwillingness for anyone to take the ten minutes it would have required to sort this matter out is what ultimately cost Mr. Dzienkanski his life.

The Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP report to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. Minister Day who is also the local MP for many of the readers of this column needs understand how little confidence the public now has in the RCMP and has to take real action to restore our trust.

This must include an immediate independent review regarding the use of tasers and the enactment of much stricter police procedures concerning their use. Tasers were supposed to be used to replace the use of lethal force; they were not supposed to replace routine questioning and restraint of an unarmed individual.

We also need an independent civilian department that investigates the RCMP rather than continuing to allow the RCMP to continue to police itself. There also needs to be a full enquiry into the conduct of CBSA and Vancouver Airport staff in the area that day with an eye to overhauling procedures so that such a tragic incident cannot happen again.

Finally airport staff and customs officers have to be given the discretion to deal with unique situations as they arise. No policy or procedure manual can cover every circumstance and always going by the book without exercising any reasonable judgment or compassion will only lead to more people needlessly being killed.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who frequently travels through the Vancouver International Airport. He can be reached via his website at