When Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport in 2007 after an altercation with RCMP officers, the sergeant in charge of communicating what turned out to be a false version of those events later pleaded to correct the record, his widow has told an inquest into his death by suicide.
Over the course of three hours on Monday, Sheila Lemaitre told the inquest that some of the information her husband, RCMP Sergeant Pierre Lemaitre, had been given to tell the media was wrong, but he was ordered not to correct it. As a result, he was accused of being “the RCMP liar” and “the RCMP spin doctor.” He was later transferred to the traffic division, a move viewed as a punishment transfer, she said.
The situation exacerbated the depression he had lived with for some time, his wife said.
Sgt. Lemaitre died by suicide on July 29, 2013. He was 55.
Ms. Lemaitre said the force portrayed her husband as a “bad apple” and used him as a scapegoat when, in fact, he had wanted badly to correct the misinformation.
“At one point he was almost screaming, ‘I want to correct it, I want to tell them,’ and he wasn’t allowed,” she said. “He was ordered not to.”
His lost pride in his work, his personality changed, and he became physically abusive, sometimes pushing his wife to the floor and choking her.
“He couldn’t explain to me why he was so angry,” Ms. Lemaitre said, “but he knew there was a rage in his head that was burning his brain – and he couldn’t control it.”
In the days preceding his death, Ms. Lemaitre said, he ran several errands she had been “nagging” him about. He purchased extra bags of dog food, procured a few wheelbarrows of fertilizer from a neighbour and filled several large jugs with water.
She initially thought it was an indication that he was feeling better, but in hindsight recognized that he was preparing to take his own life.
“He was just making sure that I was going to be okay for a bit,” she said.
The coroner’s inquest is scheduled to last several days. The jury will hear evidence from witnesses and can then make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances.
Ms. Lemaitre told presiding coroner Vincent Stancato and a jury of five that her husband was proud to be a Mountie and had a reputation for going the extra mile to help others. That changed after the airport incident.
Mr. Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who did not speak English, had come to Canada to live with his mother, but got lost and wandered the airport for 10 hours. He eventually began throwing furniture around in the arrivals area and was stunned with a Taser seconds after officers arrived on the scene. He died on the airport floor.
Sgt. Lemaitre initially said Mr. Dziekanski was stunned with a Taser twice, when in fact he was stunned five times. The initial account also said the officers only used the Taser to “immobilize the violent man,” but bystander video challenged that account.
All four Mounties who responded to the incident were charged with perjury. Two were convicted and two were acquitted.
In 2015, Ms. Lemaitre filed a lawsuit against the Attorney-General of Canada and the B.C. Justice Minister for the actions of the Mounties; it was settled in July through mediation. Her lawyer said he could not comment on the settlement.
Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for the Dziekanski family, attended Monday’s proceedings to show his support for Ms. Lemaitre. He recalled cross-examining Sgt. Lemaitre during the inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski’s death, as well as a brief conversation the two had privately afterward.
“I came away thinking that this was a thoroughly decent man who was placed into a very difficult position and unable to clear the record when he wanted to,” Mr. Kosteckyj told reporters. “He asked me to extend the apologies to my client, Zofia Cisowski [Mr. Dziekanski’s mother], so that she would know that he himself took no part in trying to mislead the public or the media about the events.”
He added that the sergeant seemed “very, very bothered by not being able to be truthful, that he felt that he had been hung out to dry.”