The Braidwood Inquiry into the Taser death of Robert Dziekanski has been ongoing for the past five months or so. In the interim period we have heard more than enough about the structural failings of our national police force. We have also heard ad hominen attacks against the four police officers involved who set out from home on that fateful day just determined to do their jobs. They have been called thugs and murderers and all manner of hysterical epithets.
I have tried to keep the arguments on both sides balanced by stating discussions of the actions of the members involved in the response to Dziekanski’s violent behaviour need to be separated from the way the RCMP handled the aftermath.
The response by the four members involved was within the guidelines for the Use of Force set out by the RCMP and within that, the members acted appropriately. Criminal charges of murder or criminal negligence or attempts by the media to pillory those members for their response that night are simply not warranted.
Could they have spent more time trying to reason with Dziekanski or otherwise settle the situation? I think the response to that question is an obvious “Yes.”
But not doing so does not make them murderers or thugs.
But, saying that is not akin to agreeing with the RCMP’s media relations strategy or its response as the public sought to find the truth.
Nor am I trying to justify the apparent discrepancies in the follow up investigation. Nor am I backing the policy of the RCMP relative to the use of a conducted energy weapon in potentially violent situations. I believe those are all separate arguments.
Having said all of that, I am troubled by how the RCMP has positioned itself in this. The public has a perception that the RCMP is lying or trying to cover up something. If that perception is allowed to grow and build, then the inherent credibility of every serving member who does his and her best on a daily basis is threatened. Perception is, after all, reality for those who hold it.
This is not a “do over” situation. Credibility, once lost, is nigh on impossible to regain. If the public believes the RCMP has lied to cover up the actions of its members in one case then every case and every statement becomes suspect.
There is no question that the RCMP has some problems in this starting with the original statements to the media going through the decision by a senior Mountie not to correct inaccurate versions of events released to the media in the early days to the discrepancies in the attending members’ recollection of events.
But those need to be separated from the response to Dziekanski’s actions.
Now we have the latest sequence of events in the petitioning of the BC Supreme Court to limit Judge Braidwood’s ability to find misconduct of the attending members.
The members involved have a right to defend themselves. And they have a right to use whatever means the law allows. But the optics are not good.
The arguments in play are viable. What are the parameters of the inquiry? Here is the original announcement.
On the surface, at the least, findings, such as Braidwood is trying to suggest are in play, are beyond his parameters.
As far as the other main argument that a BC authority has no ability to direct anything against a federal police officer may hold more water. The RCMP are not subject to the BC Police Act or the authority of the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner. They are subject of the authority of the RCMP Act, a piece of federal legislation.
This is a double-edged sword at best. While it is true that the RCMP are not treated the same as the Vancouver Police Department when a complaint is laid, it is also true that they are acting as the municipal or provincial police depending on where they are assigned.
An argument in this vein may well serve the interests of the members but one can hardly see how it serves the interests of the RCMP in the face of the credibility issues they already face in the aftermath of the death of Robert Dziekanski.
And did I mention that the contract between the RCMP and the Province of British Columbia is coming due in the next couple of years? The troubling matters in this case continue to build.