The rights of an RCMP officer involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death would be violated if a statement he made to homicide investigators is admitted into his perjury trial, his lawyer argued on Wednesday as she attempted to keep a key piece of the Crown’s evidence out of the case.
Constable Bill Bentley is accused of lying six times at the public inquiry that examined what happened when Mr. Dziekanski was stunned with a Taser at Vancouver’s airport. Constable Bentley was among four officers who confronted Mr. Dziekanski, and all four have been charged with perjury.
Three of Constable Bentley’s alleged lies relate to a statement he gave to homicide investigators several hours after Mr. Dziekanski died in October, 2007 – specifically, testimony during the inquiry in which he explained apparent inaccuracies in that statement.
But Constable Bentley’s lawyer told a pretrial hearing on Wednesday that the officer was compelled to give the statement because he was ordered to speak with investigators by a superior and he believed he would be reprimanded if he did not.
“Bentley believed he would be in trouble if he did not provide” the statement, defence lawyer Maegan Richards told a B.C. Supreme Court judge.
“You’ve heard evidence of a strong state presence [when Bentley and the other officers were asked to provide statements], and I suggest that Constable Bentley is an individual who has been the subject of coercion.”
Ms. Richards also argued Constable Bentley believed he was not free to leave the RCMP attachment near the airport where the interviews were conducted.
Because of that, Ms. Richards said Constable Bentley was effectively detained, which she said should have triggered a warning that his statement could be used as evidence and he should have been provided access to a lawyer. Constable Bentley was not given any warnings that his statement could be used against him.
Provisions in the charter prevent self-incriminating statements from being used in court, she noted.
The court has already heard the officers were told they were required to give a statement under a policy known as “duty to account” – a vague term that was not defined in any law or policy, but which officers generally interpreted as an obligation to provide an account of a critical incident such as an in-custody death.
Constable Bentley and three other officers responded to 911 calls about a man throwing furniture at Vancouver’s airport early on Oct. 14, 2007. Within seconds of arriving, one of the officers stunned Mr. Dziekanski with a Taser. The Polish immigrant died shortly after.
The case prompted a high-profile public inquiry into Taser use and the circumstances of Mr. Dziekanski’s death. All four officers, including Constable Bentley, were called to testify.
In his statement to a homicide investigator, Constable Bentley said Mr. Dziekanski appeared to be looking for a weapon and that the man started to back up and appeared as though he was “looking for something to grab” in the seconds before he was stunned with the Taser. He also told the investigator two other officers took Mr. Dziekanski to the ground.
A video shot by a witness appeared to contradict those statements, his perjury trial has heard, and Constable Bentley was forced to explain the discrepancies during the inquiry.
He told the inquiry that when he said Mr. Dziekanski was looking for a weapon, he meant to say Mr. Dziekanski was moving his head from side to side.
When he said in his statement that Mr. Dziekanski was backing up, Constable Bentley told the inquiry he was referring to the moment Mr. Dziekanski grabbed a stapler.
And when asked about why he told the homicide investigator that two officers took Mr. Dziekanski down when it is clear on the video that the Taser caused Mr. Dziekanski to fall to the ground, Constable Bentley said he had no explanation for the error.
The Crown alleges each of those explanations were lies, and prosecutor Scott Fenton told the court on Wednesday that Constable Bentley’s police statement will be essential to proving that.
Mr. Fenton rejected the defence argument that Constable Bentley was coerced or detained, pointing out the officers were told before their statements that they were not considered suspects.
He also noted the charter provision regarding self-incriminating statements includes a specific exemption for perjury charges.
“It is the Crown’s theory that those inaccuracies became evident only after the objectively reliable footage from the video,” Mr. Fenton said.
Judge Mark McEwan did not make a ruling on the admissibility of Constable Bentley’s statement. Instead, he told the court he will wait until he hears an application from the Crown to introduce the police statements made by the other three officers involved in Mr. Dziekanski’s death.
Constable Bentley, Constable Kwesi Millington, Constable Gerry Rundell, and former corporal Benjamin (Monty) Robinson were each charged with perjury in May, 2011.
They are standing trial separately.