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Gary Mason (JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL)
Gary Mason (JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL)

Commission and public deserve an explanation Add to ...

The death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski is threatening to engulf the RCMP in one of the biggest scandals in its history.

Just when you thought the reputation of our national police force couldn't sink any lower comes news of the existence of an internal RCMP e-mail that contradicts the sworn testimony of the four Mounties involved in the fatal confrontation with Mr. Dziekanski.

Federal government lawyer Helen Roberts, representing the RCMP, seemed unable to explain why the November, 2007, e-mail surfaced only now, as lawyers involved in the inquiry were set to begin their final submissions. Ms. Roberts cried as she apologized for the oversight.

Meantime, former judge Thomas Braidwood, who is heading the inquiry, fumed. He was appalled by the omission and he should have been. The e-mail's existence, and the provocative and potentially explosive claim it contained, temporarily threw the inquiry into chaos.

So what to do?

It looks like the four officers will be called back to explain on the stand the discrepancy in their testimony, delaying a final commission report, possibly for months.

All four officers had testified that they had no plan as they headed towards the airport to respond to a call of a distressed male behaving violently. The officers said they had decided to taser Mr. Dziekanski only after deciding that the travel-weary, unarmed man posed a threat to their personal safety.

But in a Nov. 5, 2007, e-mail from Chief Superintendent Dick Bent, a senior member of the force, to his superior, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre, a different picture emerges.

Chief Supt. Bent wrote that, in a conversation with Superintendent Wayne Rideout, the officer in charge of the investigation into Mr. Dziekanski's death, it was revealed that the four officers "had discussed the response en route and decided that if he [the distressed man]did not comply that they would go to CEW [conducted energy weapon]"

In other words, they had decided early on to use the taser.

Their actions were premeditated.

Lawyers representing the four officers said Friday that Chief Supt. Bent got it wrong. The officers insist no such conversation occurred.

And we're supposed to believe them.

The same officers who told RMCP investigators immediately after the incident that they had tasered Mr. Dziekanski only twice, when video evidence would later show it was five times. Who said Mr. Dziekanski was putting up a fight when they decided to taser him successive times, when the video showed the poor man writhing in pain, fighting for his life after he was zapped the first time.

The same Mounties whose testimony provoked calls of a cover-up inside the force.

Supt. Rideout is also saying Chief Supt. Bent got it wrong.

And we're supposed to believe him.

The same Supt. Rideout who admitted on the stand that it was his decision not to correct wrong information the RCMP gave the public about the circumstances of Mr. Dziekanski's death because it might somehow compromise the "integrity of criminal investigation."

The same lead investigator who didn't think it might be a good idea to go back and re-interview the four officers after video surfaced that contradicted the almost-identical statements each offered to the RCMP about what happened. (Even though all four insisted they never talked among one another about what they might tell investigators.) Good lord.

Chief Supt. Bent is now saying he doesn't remember the conversation with Supt. Rideout. I guess not. And I guess we're supposed to just accept that. Pretend it never happened. Something that Chief Supt. Bent made up, I guess. What a disgrace. And you know, he'll get away with saying that too. He is a member in good standing of the old boys' club that runs the RCMP. He won't get thrown under the bus.

The contents of the memo aside, I'm dying to know why news of the e-mail didn't surface until Friday. Helen Thomas, she of the tearful apology, couldn't say what happened. There was some explanation about it being on a CD-ROM that didn't get looked at. Such a key piece of information? Didn't alarms go off somewhere, maybe inside the RCMP, when the officers were saying one thing on the stand and an e-mail was floating around that said something entirely differently?

Why didn't someone step forward well before now and alert commission lawyers to the oversight?

Did someone think the e-mail could be kept secret? Did Ms. Thomas hand it over to commission counsel only because it was going to come out some other way?

What happened? Not only does the inquiry deserve an explanation but the public does too.

This is scary stuff.

 

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