Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, committee members for inviting us to be here today and to present our version of events.
With respect to the case of Robert Dziekanski, Mrs. Cisowski's son, this was more than just an incident about tasering, and that's the point that I think is important to be made. It's important to be made from the point of view that this is, of course, a committee that deals with public security.
There are a lot of people who own a piece of what happened to Mr. Dziekanski, different agencies. Most important—just to review those, and they're in my submissions—first of all, there's the role of the RCMP in this.
Before we get into the issue of the taser, there are couple of other aspects to the RCMP behaviour in this particular case that need to be questioned and that there have never been answers for, the most important of which, in my submission, is the fact that, to begin with, after this event and after the tasering occurred, an RCMP spokesman came out on the following day and made a press release in which he said, among other things: Look, we had taken every bit of time that we could possibly take that was reasonable in the circumstances, and what we did on that particular day was we gestured to this man; we tried to communicate with him; we tried to deal with him.
The tape shows that it took 24 seconds from the time they arrived until they tasered him.
The point I make about that is that the public loses confidence in its police and in its institutions when those institutions are not forthright and straightforward and don't correct themselves.
This point has never been corrected by the RCMP, to my knowledge. That statement was hurtful to my client, but more importantly, it misrepresented what happened on that particular morning and placed the police in a position where they lose the public trust. They need to be brought up on that.
This is a democracy. We give great powers to our police officers. We give powers of arrest. We give all kinds of power to them. But we expect that they will act appropriately back. They cannot misrepresent circumstances and expect that they are going to have the public's support.
In this country, all the boys who are nine and ten years old still grow up and want to be policemen and firemen, but they're not going to want to be those things if our police don't stand up and do the right things and say the right things and are honest and straightforward. That's one of the points I make.
The second point is about how they handled this circumstance with respect to my client, Mrs. Cisowski. Mrs. Cisowski was on the phone with Canadian Border Services at two o'clock in the morning, because by this time she had gotten home from the airport. She had been on the phone with Officer Chapin, who was the last border services agent to be in contact with her son. He made arrangements that he would contact her. After his shift, he would go out and meet with Robert or look for him, and they would get on the phone and call Mrs. Cisowski.
In the meantime, they had advised her that he was there, and she was moving heaven and earth to get back to Vancouver. Those of you who are familiar with the trip from Kamloops to Vancouver at two o'clock morning know it's not a particularly easy thing to do, unless you're driving, but even to arrange a flight.
The point is that it was conveyed. This information had to be conveyed to the police officer, and it was dealt with, as I say, by the officer who helped find the papers and who had just been on the phone. Yet she went through this trip, being driven, taking herself all the way down to Vancouver in this expectation, hope, and euphoria of finally finding her son. Of course, when she got down there, she was advised that he had passed on. But she was given no detail.
The point to all of that is that this has increased the difficulty she has suffered personally. She suffers currently from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of matters related to this. She suffers from a condition that's related to intense grief that goes beyond normal psychological grief that you or I might suffer after the passing of a loved one. All this has been compounded by these various things that occurred.
Let's talk briefly about the taser, because I know that's what you were charged with more than anything else.
The simple point I would make about the taser, the use of it, and the way it was used in respect of Robert Dziekanski is that it has destroyed policemen as professionals in this context.
When the taser is a simple weapon, or people believe that it is a weapon of correction, a weapon that can be used to change someone's behaviour briefly, that it is a safe weapon to be used--in spite of the fact that it's a restricted weapon under the Criminal Code--and when the police are trained in this particular way and when they accept that behaviour, in my submission, they lose their professionalism.
I know there are some committee members here who were policemen. One of the things about police work that anybody who has ever done it knows is that it's an art form. It is not a simple application of putting handcuffs on somebody or the simple powers of arrest. It's artwork. It's knowing how to interact with people at the right time.
What we've done is take the artwork out of police work by giving these tasers to these police officers in these circumstances and saying, “You can use these things willy-nilly. They're safe. Go ahead. No one dies if you use these things.” In fact, in Canada we've had 18 people in these circumstances, and in the United States they've had 240 in circumstances surrounding the use of the taser.
The point is, if we allow the use of these restricted weapons, and arm the officers with them and give them carte blanche, they're going to use them. All it's doing is taking away from the professionalism that police officers have enjoyed in this country dating back to the time of Robert Peel, which is, historically speaking, when the police services really first started. And the point of police services was that you were only as good as the public you served, and you were only as good as the information the public was prepared to provide to you.
Well, the public is not talking to the police. The public is not happy. And it's got to stop here. You people have the power to influence the use of this particular instrument. It's not an instrument that should be used willy-nilly.
Police officers have to go back to basics--that is, using common sense. You don't show up on a scene, not interview a single suspect, and 24 seconds later, when there are four of you, overwhelm a guy who is really not in particularly great shape, not particularly large--although it's been reported that way. He was a guy of relatively modest size. In my estimation, after seeing him at the morgue, he was probably 5 foot 10 inches, maybe 5 foot 11 inches at most, and he might have weighed 180 pounds.
There were four trained police officers there. Not a single one asked a single question that day. Although they were told that he spoke no English, people thought he spoke Russian. Not a single attempt was made to try to communicate with him.
And this nonsense about gesturing that the police put out at the beginning is just totally unproven by the tape itself. And this begs the question again: If we didn't have the tape, what would the police be telling us about this incident today? That's the question the public has a right to have answered. The police have to come forward and explain why this mistake was made in the first place.
Now let's talk about the Canada Border Services Agency and what their role was in the Dziekanski matter. Mrs. Cisowski spent eight to ten hours at the airport that day. But ultimately she went to the Canada Border Services. And one of the things that we should remember in this particular case is that she was the sponsor of her son. She was responsible for her son while he was in Canada.
She had someone who spoke better English than she did go on her behalf. She says this happened about 7:30 or 8 o'clock, and that's also what the witness tells me, although Canada Border Services admits that it happened about 7 o'clock.
They say that this conversation took place with Officer Zadravec. We got that information from the disclosure obtained under the Access to Information Act. It wasn't anything that was willingly provided by Canada Border Services. It came out of access to information requests that had to be done by various interested parties. That in itself should tell you something. Six months later, that's the way the public has to find out about these things.
In any event, there's a simple question that's never been answered by Canada Border Services. Mr. Dziekanski went through primary customs at approximately 4:10. He would have been registered, you would expect, in a computer when he went through primary customs. From that point forward, he was met and dealt with by no fewer than seven Canada Border Services officers. Between four o'clock and when he was finally let go at midnight or one o'clock in the morning, seven different people had dealt with him. In fairness, one or two had dealt with him about four o'clock and determined that he didn't speak English. At that time, they still had an opportunity to get hold of a translator, even though the only translator available for a Slavic language at that time of day, as hard as this is to believe, was in Toronto. But that fellow still would have been around at four o'clock, had anybody taken the trouble to try to track him down and note that there was a guy having difficulty.
The more important point is this: when at seven o'clock they were asked about Mr. Dziekanski, which they admit, why didn't a Canada Border Services agent input his name into a computer and make the simple determination that some alarm bells should be going off? Here's a woman looking for her son who arrived at four o'clock. He went through primary customs. Where is he? Instead, no one bothered to enter his name or take any step. This is the benign neglect that surrounds everybody involved in this case. It goes from the airport authority to the police, and over to the RCMP. Rather than do the job properly, they decided to do it in a halfhearted way.
After all these disclosures, after all this information, after the Canada Border Services provided their public statement, and after I've asked publicly many times, where's the answer to this simple question? This committee ought to know, ought to be able to get that answer. He went through customs at four o'clock, presumably was entered into a computer. Why couldn't he be identified at seven o'clock? Why was she told he wasn't there?
The whole tragedy could have been avoided at that point. The answer she got—at seven o'clock according to them, at 7:30 or eight o'clock according to my witnesses—was that there was no Polish immigrant there that night, and that she might as well go home. But she didn't. She continued to hope. She went back to the airport authority.
We have seven, nine, or whatever it is, Canada Border Services agents. Nobody has disclosed their level of training. This was a weekend. Were these junior people? There were obviously acting supervisors. Were there students working? I've heard various rumours. But all these questions need to be answered. Why wasn't he dealt with more conveniently?
At the end of the day, they did the best they could. I'm not blaming any particular agent. But no one checked the computer. Officer Chapin tried to help him at the last instant. He apparently had some knowledge of Polish, but not much. He wasn't a native speaker. It doesn't even appear that he had a working knowledge. When he spoke to Mrs. Cisowski at two o'clock in the morning, they spoke English, not Polish.
At the end of the day, when they did finally release him, he didn't want to go. He made that fairly apparent. The reason he didn't want to go was that he had made an arrangement to meet his mother at the baggage claim area. She said, “I'm going to pick you up there.”
Now, I suspect, although I can't prove it, that he was never able to communicate that, because there was no one to communicate it to. He kept trying to. But, tragically, by this stage of the game, his mother had gone back to Kamloops.
This guy was a lost soul. Once the Canada Border Services were done with him--and I say this with respect--they should not be charged with looking after him once they've dealt with him, but there ought to be a facility they can turn him over to.
Here's a guy who clearly doesn't speak the language, doesn't want to leave because he can't communicate with anybody, and is trying to explain his circumstances, and yet there's nobody from the airport authority for him to be turned over to. They don't even have any security guards at that time of the evening in the area he's leaving. The oversight is unbelievable.
So here we have it. He slips through the hands of seven or eight different people. There's no one to speak to him. He's clearly giving the message that he's not ready to leave, because he's made this arrangement, and not more than 150 feet away is the mother passing on the same information to the airport authorities, not once, not twice, not even five times, more like ten times, begging, talking to them.
This is the point that I make in my brief about the airport authorities owning a piece of this tragedy. That's this. Here you have information desks. I understand that the committee was at the airport, and you would have had an opportunity to see where those information bureaus are. What's the point of having an information bureau that is hopeless and can't help you? Worse than that, they misled her into believing they were helping her.
She went to the first information bureau, which is located in the area that is closest to the doors where someone exits from international arrivals. It's a big, huge booth with green printing and writing, and it says “information booth”. She went there, and she explained right off the bat that she had a son who was on this plane, that he didn't speak the language, that he was worried about flying, that she was fairly worried about him, and she now realized that she had told him she was meeting him in there and that she couldn't get in there. What could they do?
They basically said don't worry, just wait a while, and he'll probably show up through the door. Well, after going back and forth there three or four times, she went up the escalator to the larger information bureau, where there were more people working and there were computers located on the desk. She spoke to them no fewer than four or five times, the last time being at ten o'clock.
In any event, here's the point that is the most important about this: she was misled during that period of time into thinking that they actually were looking for him. The reason she says that is that they wrote his name down; they had a form there; they had two computers, and they appeared to be looking in the computers, and she assumed they were trying to do something, and they were announcing his name.
Unbeknownst to her, but known to them, is the fact that that announcement doesn't go into the secure area. They knew that. She didn't.
Here they are leading her to believe that they were looking for your son, that they had the computers; they had the paper; they were tracking this. She went back there on numerous occasions and didn't quit even after she was told by immigration that he was not there. She went back there still, two more times, the last time with this friend who was driving her there. They were told at ten o'clock at night, “Hey, look, he's not here. Go home.”
If they had told them something simple like “We don't know, and it's not our job”, she wouldn't have gone home. She wasn't leaving until she found out. She left because she was told to go home. So this benign neglect turned into something more.
Then we have the whole notion of the lack of security. You've got these guys running around in uniform carrying out security. First of all, they appear to be totally untrained. I believe that if you ask the police candidly, they will tell you that these security people are totally untrained and are probably as much of an issue to the police as they are to us. And this is the point I make. When they finally showed up and interacted with Robert Dziekanski, which wasn't until chauffeurs who were there went running and looking for them, after phone calls were made, they had one simple interaction with Mr. Dziekanski. He was reaching for a computer and they motioned to him--you can see it on the tape--to put it down. He did. Then what did they do? They turned their backs on him. They didn't even try to interact with him. The most simple....
You don't have to be a trained police officer, you don't have to be a trained security professional, and you don't have to be a psychologist to know that if you turn your back on somebody in those circumstances, you're telling them you don't care and you're just adding to their level of frustration. And that's what happened here from the security point of view. So there's a huge issue about how these people who are working in our airports are trained, whether they're properly trained, and how they ought to be trained.
The tragedy was further compounded in this particular case because normally when you come out through the international arrivals.... And anybody who has used Vancouver airport will note that when you come through these big glass sliding doors where Mr. Dziekanski came out, there's a station for a security guard and there's normally somebody posted there. It shouldn't be lost on anybody that he actually walked out of the secure area. He was escorted out by Officer Chapin because Chapin thought he would eventually be able to meet up with his mother. I'm not saying that Chapin did anything wrong in those circumstances. He had no one to turn him over to. But there was no one out there guarding that post.
This is the entrance to the most secure area of the airport. This is where all the people we're trying to keep in...and we're trying to keep people from getting in there because there are doors that lock. You need a special pass to get in there, and there was no security guy there.
Good afternoon, Chairman and members of the committee.
I'm relieved to be here today. For me and my family, this is an extremely important destination in what has been a very, very long journey.
As I'm sure you know, my brother, Robert Bagnell, died on June 23, 2004, moments after he was tasered by Vancouver police. Two days after his death, the Vancouver Police Department contacted my family to inform us that Bob died of an apparent drug overdose.
I know you won't be able to answer these questions, but my questions have always been as follows: If using tasers on my brother was the right thing to do, would the police not have disclosed the fact of their use immediately? Would they have concealed the fact that they used tasers, for an entire four weeks, before announcing to the media, not to us, that they used tasers the night my brother died? Would they have waited a further three weeks before coming up with a burning building from which Bob needed to be rescued?
No, I believe the police knew immediately that the force they used on my brother was excessive. They needed those seven weeks to pull together a plausible explanation to justify their use of the weapon whose manufacturer had aggressively marketed it to them, misleading them into believing that the taser could cause no harm.
More than two years after Bob died, a coroner's inquest was finally convened in September 2006. The inquest, in our opinion, was about saving the taser, not about the changes that might be made to prevent similar deaths in the future. No one, least of all the lawyer for the police and the two lawyers who had standing at the inquest for Taser International, was prepared to conceive of the possibility that the taser may not be the perfect weapon, that there may even exist the possibility that the taser could cause or in some way contribute to death.
We learned some interesting facts at the inquest. We learned that the four ERT members who were in physical contact with Bob when he stopped breathing delivered their mostly identical statements to investigators 17 days after the incident, after seeking legal advice. We learned from the advanced life support staff who attended to Bob right after he stopped breathing that every muscle in his body was spasmed. They said they had only ever seen that in rigor mortis, which they normally would not see until hours later.
We learned that it was possible that Bob had less than half the lethal amount of narcotics in his system, not nearly enough in and of themselves to kill him. We learned that the data download feature on both tasers that were used on Bob conveniently failed, so that the number, duration, and mode of uses were impossible to verify. We learned that police attended the autopsy. The pathologist testified that the cause of death was partly determined by information she was given. The cause of several taser-like marks on Bob's body were inconclusive and the pathologist was unable to determine whether Bob's heart underwent any electrical arrhythmia.
That's the thing about death that occurs after tasering. Even Dr. Butt testified recently to this committee that very uncommonly is there specific pathology with the taser. And I don't begin to understand the science behind the taser or how it affects the human body.
Coroners and medical examiners often choose to mention a condition they call “excited delirium” as the cause of death. They are influenced by Taser International to specifically not mention the taser. The manufacturer's aggressive approach against coroners and medical examiners explains why relatively few deaths have been found to be caused by tasers. Both so-called excited delirium and the taser are undetectable on autopsy, and therefore unprovable. However, as a friend of mine says, “Excited delirium doesn't sue coroners, Taser International does.” So drugs, psychosis, and excited delirium take the blame for these deaths despite the lack of any evidence to show that the taser did not cause or contribute to them in any way.
Tasers have not been safety-tested in this country, and nobody knows whether individual weapons match the manufacturer's specifications. The only truly independent testing I am aware of is what was done on the two tasers that were used on my brother the night he died. One of those two tasers was found to be 84.5 times more powerful than the manufacturer's specifications. Of course, Taser International reacted to those findings in its usual hostile manner, and the company that tested the tasers was made to resile from its findings. However, the author of the report, the man who tested the tasers, testified at my brother's inquest and stood steadfastly behind his methodology and his conclusions.
At this time the two tasers are still awaiting new testing protocols, protocols that are being developed by police. Today I learned that the two tasers used on my brother arrived in Ottawa this week.
Tasers urgently require expert and truly independent testing for safety on humans. Every time a police officer uses a taser they engage in a deadly game of Russian roulette with a potentially lethal weapon. Not so long ago, the past president of the Canada Safety Council urged that minimum standards for the efficacy and use of tasers be developed and noted that relying completely on specifications provided by the manufacturer of the taser is completely unacceptable. Since we are dealing with possible electrocution, it seems the Canadian Standards Association would be the most logical place to start. And if after the taser has been tested it is to remain in the police arsenal, then a much higher standard of necessity must be imposed upon its use in Canada so that police officers can better predict the potential for severe, unintended, and possibly deadly effects, and therefore consider their force options more carefully.
There's been a great deal of reluctance by law enforcement officials and coroners in Canada to admit that the taser may not be as safe as the manufacturer originally misled them to believe. This has only been exacerbated by the fact that the manufacturer has ingratiated itself into our law enforcement community by, for example, compensating individual police officers and at least one coroner, and spending thousands of dollars in sponsorship of Canadian law enforcement events. They have even recently announced that they'd like to be part of any inquests and reviews in Canada.
My brother Bob's death was the 58th in North America. According to my research, the number of dead now stands at 337. It's no coincidence that the taser is the common denominator in all of these deaths.
Canadians witnessed the last horrifying moments of Mr. Dziekanski's life as it was stolen from him. Had the events leading up to my brother's death been captured on video, Canadians would have been outraged in 2004, and perhaps many of those who have since died in Canada, including Mr. Dziekanski, might still be alive today.
What would we learn if we could bear witness to the last moments of the lives of Terry Hanna, Clayton Willey, Clark Whitehouse, Ronald Perry, Roman Andreichikov, Peter Lamonday, Robert Bagnell, Jerry Knight, Samuel Truscott, Kevin Geldart, Gurmeet Sandhu, James Foldi, Paul Saulnier, Alesandro Fiacco, Jason Dean, Claudio Castagnetta, Quilem Registre, Howard Hyde, and Robert Knipstrom?
Would we agree that taser use was justified during Clayton Willey's altercation at the mall? Were three taser jolts justified when Clark Whitehouse tried to flee from police on foot? What about when police arrived, tasers already drawn, to find Roman Andreichikov sitting on a couch rocking back and forth mumbling to himself? Was it okay to shock Peter Lamonday several times when he was already on the ground? How about Alesandro Fiacco, who refused to cooperate with police? These are but a few Canadian examples where the lives of these men and their loved ones went sideways in a heartbeat.
Would we agree that taser use was justified as my brother, all 136 pounds of him, lay on his back on a bathroom floor alone, unarmed, in extreme medical distress, resisting police attempts to drag him out by his feet by holding on to inanimate objects for dear life while 13 highly trained police officers stood by as the only witnesses to the last moments of Bob's life, watching as he was subdued to death?
No, I believe that if Canadians could see with their own eyes what really happened--not the police's tidy version of events, but what really happened when these 20 people died in this country--they would be outraged.
I'm almost done.
In the days leading up to today, I have racked my brain trying to conjure up the words that might help you look at the issue of tasers from a different perspective: that of a person who has been deeply affected by the loss of a family member to this deadly weapon. I am but one grieving family member. Somewhere out there are thousands of other family members left behind to mourn the other 336 people who have died.
I know that the eyes of the world are on Canada at this pivotal point. They watch, and they wait. Those who know us know that we will do the right thing. Canada will take the lead and see these weapons finally and independently tested. Canada will set the standard and impose strict regulations that will not allow police unfettered access to this technology. And finally, they know that Canada will impose a much-needed moratorium on tasers until we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether or not their use on human beings is safe.
Canada will pay special attention to the studies that have found problems with tasers.
As the father of one taser victim said,
||The issue is not whether or not the taser can be used in a high percentage of cases to reduce death and/or physical trauma to officers and civilians alike. The issue is whether or not it's OK to kill the rest through ignorance and rationalization just because it's a small percentage.... The successes aren't the problem--the failures are.