A Mountie accused of lying at the public inquiry into the 2007 tasering death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport has been acquitted of perjury.
The Crown was able to provide only circumstantial evidence to suggest Constable Bill Bentley had wilfully concocted a false story about the events that resulted in the Polish immigrant’s death, Justice Mark McEwan said in B.C Supreme Court on Monday.
“The Crown has not shown that in any particular [instance] Mr. Bentley made a false statement knowing it to be false and with intent to mislead the inquiry,” Justice McEwan said. “The Crown has advanced a suspicion based largely on circumstantial evidence. As to each particular, however, and as to the indictment taken as a whole, there are other explanations, inconsistent with the guilt of the accused, that remain open on the evidence.”
The constable leaned over and appeared overcome with emotion as Justice McEwan read his decision.
The Crown had alleged Constable Bentley colluded with three other Mounties on their statements to homicide investigators after Mr. Dziekanski’s death in efforts to justify their actions. They then attempted to cover up that collusion by lying at the public inquiry, the Crown asserted at Constable Bentley’s perjury trial last month.
Constables Bentley, Kwesi Millington and Gerry Rundel and former corporal Benjamin (Monty) Robinson were called to the airport early on the morning of Oct. 14, 2007, after Mr. Dziekanski began throwing furniture in the arrivals terminal. The 40-year-old, who did not speak English, had grown erratic after wandering the airport for 10 hours, after his first flight.
Within seconds of arriving at the scene, an officer jolted Mr. Dziekanski with a taser several times. Mr. Dziekanski died on the airport floor minutes later.
The Crown had pointed to the Mounties’ similar notes and statements – which seemed to contradict amateur video that later surfaced – as proof the officers had colluded. For example, officers claimed Mr. Dziekanski advanced on them with a stapler before he was stunned and wrestled to the ground but the video showed no such occurrence.
However, Justice McEwan noted several civilian witnesses had provided similar accounts and that the video must be viewed with caution.
“The accounts of others who had different perspectives are of some assistance in determining what occurred, or at least in casting doubt upon the proposition that if something cannot be seen in the video, it didn’t happen,” he said.
“I think that, properly understood, Constable Bentley’s evidence is supported by other evidence, specifically that at the point Mr. Dziekanski picked up the stapler he could be perceived to be combative. It is quite possible that the … video did not capture the gestures several witnesses observed that would be consistent with Mr. Bentley’s note that Mr. Dziekanski ‘came at’ the police, because it was taken from behind Mr. Dziekanski.”
Constable Bentley’s lawyer, Peter Wilson, had argued certain discrepancies could have been honest mistakes that arose from a fast-paced situation.
After Monday’s decision, Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie said while this was not the result the special prosecutor had advocated, the prosecution recognizes it is in the court’s hands to determine whether the case had been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
He could not comment on what implication the decision might have on the remaining perjury cases against the three other Mounties.
The officers were charged with perjury in May, 2011, and will stand trial separately. Mr. Robinson’s trial is scheduled to start in November, while Constables Millington and Rundel are scheduled to stand trial in February, 2014.
Mr. Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, who had spent nearly six hours pacing the airport corridors looking for her son on the day he arrived in Vancouver, did not return a call for comment on Monday.
Since 2007, there have been 1,021 cases of perjury in Canada’s youth and adult criminal courts. Of those, just 20 per cent were found guilty.
The guilty rate climbs slightly for the “most serious offences,” a selection of cases involving more than one charge. Among 347 MSO perjury charges, 38 per cent were found guilty.
The number of perjury cases has risen slightly since 2007, going from 182 to 209 in 2011-12. But the number of guilty cases has never exceeded 25 per cent.
With a report from Stuart Thompson