Timeline: Robert Dziekanski investigation
October 14, 2007: Robert Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish traveller, was shocked with a Taser and subdued by RCMP officers after security staff found him shouting and throwing chairs in the Vancouver International Airport. Just minutes after police deployed the Taser, he was dead.
November 17, 2007: Only hours after Dziekanski’s funeral in Kamloops, B.C., RCMP Commissioner William Elliott announces the four officers involved have been reassigned. Commissioner Elliott also defended the service’s handling of the case. "The RCMP wishes to once again extend our deepest sympathy and condolences" to the family of Robert Dziekanski, he said in the statement, days after the release of a video showing the Polish immigrant writhing in pain and screaming after being shocked by police. Commissioner Elliott acknowledged the images in the Dziekanski video are "disturbing."
November 18, 2007: Dziekanski’s grief-stricken widow, Elzbieta Dubon, in her first interview with the Canadian media, manages a faint smile when asked what Canada meant to her common-law husband of eight years. "Make sure he knows that I am smiling," Dubon, 46, said to a Polish interpreter while she nodded to a Canadian journalist. "When Robert left he told me, ‘Ella, if I go to the Rocky Mountains, and if I see a grizzly bear, I will walk up to it and kiss it.’" Her smile was brief. Then she stood, pulled the interpreter and journalist to her and moaned incomprehensible words of sorrow into their chests. The police actions, she said, can’t be explained. "They are murderers."
December 7, 2007: The Vancouver Airport Authority announces significant changes to passenger and visitor services at Vancouver International Airport as a result of preliminary findings of the authority’s internal review of circumstances surrounding Dziekanski’s death. Key changes to airport security include 24-hour customer care in the international arrivals area and larger, brighter signs with pictograms and multiple languages. These changes were expected to cost $300,000 to initiate and $1.3-million per year to maintain.
December 14, 2007: The RCMP says they will "limit" how and when their officers use Tasers, but a spokesman for the Public Complaints Commission says the amendments "don’t go far enough."
May 5, 2008: Two international experts testify during the first day of B.C.’s public inquiry into the controversial conducted energy weapon, saying it is exceedingly rare for Tasers to cause death. J. Patrick Reilly, an international expert on the effects of electricity on humans, said in his experience, there was a probability of "well less than one per cent" of harm or death from Taser use. More than 300 people across North America have died after being jolted by Tasers. A second witness, John Webster, a biomedical engineer, gave similar testimony.
June 18, 2008: The RCMP should limit their use of Tasers to "combative" suspects and take the weapons out of the hands of inexperienced officers, RCMP public complaints commission chairman Paul Kennedy urged in a report that threatens to withdraw support for the devices unless the Mounties change their policies.
January 19, 2009: A public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death begins. The inquiry, overseen by retired judge Thomas Braidwood, is expected to last six weeks. It will examine evidence from the RCMP regarding the four officers involved in the confrontation with Dziekanski.
January 26, 2009: An immigration supervisor in charge the night Dziekanski died said the Polish traveller was "calm and co-operative" and may have been sleeping during his 10-hour stay at the Vancouver International Airport. Alexandra Currie, acting superintendent for the Canada Border Services Agency, told the inquiry that when she saw Mr. Dziekanski after 9:30 PM on October 13, 2007, she knew his flight had landed at 4:00 PM, that he was entering as a landed immigrant, didn’t speak English, "and had been in the airport a number of hours." Although it was "unusual" for a traveller to stay that long, Ms. Currie said Mr. Dziekanski did not appear distraught. The inquiry has now heard from several customs and immigration officers that Dziekanski was never aggressive or threatening, a direct contradiction with the December 12, 2008, report that cleared the RCMP of any criminal wrongdoing.
January 27, 2009: Richmond, BC Fire Capt. Kirby Graeme, the first responder to reach Dziekanski after he was Tasered, called the Mounties "unprofessional" for not going to the aid of the Polish immigrant. Graeme, in his opinion, the RCMP "obstructed" paramedics’ attempts to help Dziekanski. Dziekanski was lying motionless facedown after several Taser jolts and being kneed in the back, his hands handcuffed behind his back and his face to the left and his eyes open. "Nobody seemed to be doing anything," said Graeme, who asked one of the RCMP officers what had happened. "I meant no disrespect to the RCMP officers at the scene," Capt. Graeme said the next day, defending his comments. "I said they were unprofessional, not highly unprofessional."
January 29, 2009: A Vancouver airport operations manager released more "very troubling" evidence in the form of seven video clips and 39 audio recordings of the night Dziekanski died. "The evidence we’ve heard at the inquiry and [in the audio clips] is very troubling, because it’s very clear the airport ERS (Emergency Response Services) were just 800 metres away and perhaps could have saved his life, yet they weren’t called," said Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer representing Dziekanski’s mother Zofia Cisowski at the inquiry.
February 2, 2009: Translators reveal Dziekanski’s final words after watching the famous amateur video of the event. Two Polish language translators hired for the inquiry were given enhanced audio version of the Pritchard video. One of them, a bearded man named Kris Barski, appeared at the inquiry on Monday with the translation. "I will trash this office," he is first heard to say, on the Pritchard video. He was, at that moment, pushing chairs towards the swinging automated door, forming his barrier. He had been in the airport for hours, after a long, transcontinental from Poland, via Germany, and had experienced a convoluted turn through Canada Customs.
Silent video footage from the Vancouver airport shows several onlookers moving closer to Mr. Dziekanski, and then backing away.
"He almost threw the chair through the window," yelled someone in the background. "Look at him!"
"F— off," snapped Mr. Dziekanski. He picked up a small, folding table and held it to his chest, the legs pointing outward. He panted, loudly.
"I will smash the glass, and I will smash the glass here and you will see," he shouted, according to Mr. Barski’s translation of the Pritchard footage. He seemed to believe himself detained. "What did you say? You will not take me… You will not let me?"
He stepped across the doorway again. "For f—‘s sake, I will sue you and everybody else," he said. Then he muttered to himself: "Fine, fine. We’re in a different country and…" the rest is indecipherable, the translator told the inquiry yesterday.
An unidentified woman approached the doorway, from the airport greeting side, and held out her hand to Mr. Dziekanski. She was obviously trying to reassure him but he did not appear to comprehend; he snarled at her. "I will smash the entire desk," he said, retreating to a podium inside the arrivals area. "Leave me alone, everybody, go away I said."
He was now back behind a glass partition. "How long do I still have to wait?" he asked. "So, you will not let me go? You will not let me out of here?" He was panting. He wiped sweat from his face.
Finally, the police arrived. The airport video, shot from the public greeting area in the direction of the automatic doors, shows three RCMP officers, then a fourth, striding purposefully towards the glassed area. It was 1:28 AM. About 10 onlookers had gathered and were watching Mr. Dziekanski behind the glass.
He recognized the law. "Police!" he screamed. "Police!"
The four officers surrounded him. "Leave me alone," Mr. Dziekanski yelled. "Leave me alone! Are you out of your mind? Why?" There are no more decipherable words.
At 1:39, only a minute after the officers arrived on the scene, one of them fired a Taser dart at Mr. Dziekanski.
February 5, 2009: Thomas Braidwood says a key issue emerging at the inquiry is whether Mr. Dziekanski raised his hand while wielding a stapler before he was hit by the first shot from a Taser deployed by one of four RCMP officers. Eyewitness Sima Ashrafinia dismissed the idea that Dziekanski could have used a stapler as a weapon, "He wasn’t swinging or waving the stapler… It wasn’t a threatening gesture, it was a defensive gesture."
February 11, 2009: An RCMP executive changed his story about the events that preceded Dziekanski’s death. Robert Jorssen, the chief financial officer of the RCMP in British Columbia, told the inquiry that police officers hit the Polish immigrant five times with a Taser after he grabbed a stapler from a counter and "brandished" it above his head. But after watching a video of the incident, Mr. Jorssen said, "It appears he reacted after he was shot."
February 12, 2009: Dziekanski didn’t get faster medical aid after he was Tasered because of "office politics," the inquiry heard. Airport employee Heather Staller expressed her dismay that her friend who headed the airport’s own emergency response, Andrew Caldwell, wasn’t given a chance to save the life of the Polish immigrant. Staller told the inquiry that Caldwell had minor clashes twice earlier that night with the two airport managers.
February 18, 2009: Robert Ginter, an airport manager said he didn’t call in the airport’s own first responders to save Dziekanski’s life because he was concerned a plane could crash or a fire could break out. Ginter said he didn’t want to have all the airport staff busy at one site, and adds that it had nothing to do with office politics.
February 23, 2009: Cst. Gerry Rundel says testifies he interpreted Dziekanski’s raising his hands above his head as a gesture of defiance rather than surrender. On February 24, Rundel said he and his colleagues didn’t have time to warn Dziekanski he was going to be Tasered.
February 25, 2009: Cst. Bill Bentley concedes on the stand the notation he made at the time of the incident, "Subject grabbed stapler and came at members screaming," was inaccurate. Cst. Bentley denied he was part of an RCMP coverup of the circumstances surrounding Dziekanski’s death.
February 26, 2009: Poland announces it wants to launch its own investigation into the Dziekanski’s death, but is being blocked by the unilateral suspension by Canada of a co-operation treaty, the Polish embassy in Ottawa said.
March 2, 2009: Cst. Kwesi Millington admits to the inquiry that his statements of why, when and how many times he Tasered Dziekanski are at odds with the bystander video of the incident.
March 24, 2009: The lead Mountie working the night Dziekanski died said the Polish immigrant "didn’t give us the opportunity" to follow RCMP policy and warn him before he was Tasered. "It wasn’t tactically possible," said RCMP Cpl. Benjamin (Monty) Robinson. On March 25, he admitted that he shouldn’t have spoken to the Polish immigrant in English before the Taser was deployed.
March 26, 2009: A paramedic called to the Vancouver International Airport after Dziekanski became unconscious said the lead RCMP officer told him the Polish immigrant was Tasered only once. Allan Maciak told the Braidwood inquiry that RCMP Cpl. Robinson didn’t say the Polish immigrant had been hit by a Taser five times.
March 31, 2009: Ravi Hira, the lawyer for Cst. Kwesi Millington was met with fierce hostility after dredging up the victim’s past. Hira questioned a "toxic relationship" that Dziekanski may or may not have had with a woman back in Poland; an unspecified juvenile conviction and supposed five-year sentence, back in Poland; and a "drinking problem." "Scum!" shouted one inquiry spectator, outraged at the lawyer’s muckraking. "Shame!" yelled another when Hira left the inquiry room.
Meanwhile, Magda Czelwinska, a neighbour of the Polish immigrant, said he told her he was excited to come to Canada, the land of "milk and honey."
April 2, 2009: Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, demands that the B.C. government appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her son’s death. "I have lost faith in Canadian justice."
April 13, 2009: B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal announces the four Mounties involved could face charges. The news comes months after prosecutors in the case determined the officers would not be charged.
April 16, 2009: Sgt Brad Fawcett, a Vancouver police expert on use of force, says the RCMP officers used "appropriate force" when Tasering the Polish immigrant.
April 22, 2009: An RCMP spokesman says that top police brass made a deliberate decision not to correct misinformation the Mounties had told the media about Dziekanski’s death, and also admitted the RCMP didn’t want a damning bystander video of the Tasering released.
April 28, 2009: Two "experts," Dr. Charles Swerdlow, a U.S. cardiac electrophysiologist and electrical engineer Dorin Panescu, who both admit to being paid by Taser International, said that they don’t believe the five Taser jolts inflicted on Robert Dziekanski contributed to his death.
April 30, 2009: An eminent forensic pathologist says Dziekanski’s death – after five Taser jolts and restraint by the RCMP – was likely a "cardiac-related" death linked to the Tasering. Dr. John Butt, a forensic pathologist with almost 40 years’ experience who was awarded the Order of Canada in 2000 for his work, disagreed with the report by pathologist Dr. Charles Lee that failed to mention use of the Taser but did conclude "chronic alcoholism" contributed to Mr. Dziekanski’s death.
May 4, 2009: Robert Dziekanski was likely suffering from delirium when he was Tasered, but delirium is unlikely to cause spontaneous death, a Vancouver psychiatrist testifies. "By and large, for an otherwise healthy individual, even if they have alcoholism, in a state of delirium and dehydration it’s unlikely that a person would die spontaneously from these features," says Dr. Shaohua Lu, who prepared a psychiatric diagnosis of Dziekanski for the RCMP last year. Dr. Lu’s report was based on witness statements.
May 5, 2009: Few changes to Canadian border procedures have been made since the death of Dziekanski, the Braidwood inquiry hears. "Nothing has changed – a few policies on paper may look different but it’s still business as usual. Nothing has changed in the actual day-to-day operations of the airport since Mr. Dziekanski’s tragic death," charges lawyer Walter Kosteckyj, who is acting for Dziekanski’s mother Zofia Cisowski.
May 6, 2009: The former commanding officer in charge of investigating Dziekanski’s death defends the decision not to correct misinformation given to the media for 14 months. "My belief at the time is we needed to protect the facts we were gathering," RCMP Supt. Wayne Rideout told the Braidwood inquiry.
May 11, 2009: The RCMP’s second-in-command issues a direct apology for the "tragic death" of Robert Dziekanski, saying the police service wants to learn from its mistakes and refocus training so that officers use force as a last resort. "We are very sorry for Mr. Dziekanski’s death," William Sweeney, the senior deputy commissioner, told a Senate committee studying RCMP reforms. "We are committed to learning as much as possible from the circumstances surrounding his tragic death."
May 13, 2009: A police psychologist who told the Braidwood inquiry that four RCMP officers "panicked" and used "excessive force" when they used a Taser on Robert Dziekanski says he blames RCMP management for the "tragedy." Mike Webster, who helped train police agencies for more than 30 years, says that although he respects the challenge faced by frontline officers, he said he would "diagnose" the RCMP as an organization as "sick."
"I have the utmost respect for [RCMP] operational members on the street, who are generally well-meaning, their hearts are in the right place and they want to serve the community," says Webster. But he adds the RCMP senior management are "dinosaurs" that are still in the "dark ages" of police work.
May 14, 2009: Being Tasered five times by RCMP officers contributed more to the death of Robert Dziekanski than being physically restrained by police, an expert doctor tells the Braidwood inquiry. Dr. Keith Chambers, a Vancouver epidemiologist, found there were two factors that contributed to the Polish man’s death — the five Taser shots fired at Dziekanski and the subsequent physical restraint by four Mounties. He says the Tasering of Dziekanski appears on the bystander-shot video to have been a great deal more stressful to him than the act of physical restraint.
May 28, 2009: Zofia Cisowski announces she has hired former B.C. judge Bill Sundhu and a Polish lawyer to investigate whether the four Mounties could face charges under Polish law. Their findings carry no legal weight in Canada or Poland.
June 1, 2009: As RCMP Commissioner William Elliott apologizes for the death of Robert Dziekanski, the Mounties pulled more than 1,500 older-model Tasers from service on the grounds they may not produce a powerful enough electrical charge. Commissioner Elliott did not link Dziekanski’s death to the older-model M26 Taser.
June 8, 2009: The four RCMP officers are asking a B.C. Supreme Court judge to stop Commissioner Thomas Braidwood from making any findings of misconduct against them after an inquiry into the death.
June 15, 2009: A B.C. Supreme Court judge upholds Braidwood’s right to reprimand four RCMP officers and make findings of "misconduct" in how they handled Dziekanski.
June 19, 2009: An e-mail surfaces, shedding light on possible misconduct by senior RCMP officers. The e-mail, sent by RCMP Chief Supt. Dick Bent to RCMP deputy commissioner Al Macintyre, suggests for the first time that the four Mounties who responded to a call at the airport planned to use a Taser against Dziekanski – contrary to what they testified during the inquiry. The e-mail, dated November 5, 2007, said: "Finally, spoke to Wayne (Rideout) and he indicated that the members did not articulate that they saw the symptoms of excited delirium, but instead had discussed the response en route and decided that if he did not comply that they would go to CEW (conducted energy weapon)."
Braidwood decided the new e-mail would require new testimony, so he adjourned the inquiry until September 22.
September 22, 2009: The Braidwood inquiry resumes with Dick Bent, RCMP ‘E’ Division chief superintendent, deputy criminal operations officer, standing by the accuracy of his e-mail that said four Mounties had decided to use a Taser on Robert Dziekanski before they even met him. Bent quietly repeated on the stand that he was just recording in his November 5, 2007 e-mail what the four Mounties’ supervisor had told him, "that the members had discussed en route and decided that if he [Dziekanski] did not comply that they would go to CEW [conducted-energy weapon]."
September 23, 2009: A Spanish interpreter told the inquiry she asked border officials at the Vancouver International Airport to find someone who spoke Dziekanski’s language. According to Gracie Churchill-Browne, Dziekanski was "tired, confused and frustrated."
September 24, 2009: The four Mounties who Tasered Dziekanski kept working together for weeks after the Polish immigrant died in their custody. Yet the four officers previously told the inquiry probing his October 2007 airport death that they never had the opportunity to discuss the case, either at work, at a debriefing session or in phone calls or e-mails. RCMP Sgt. Doug Wright — the immediate supervisor of the four Mounties involved in the Tasering — said the four kept working together "for two or three weeks."
October 5, 2009: In his final submission, lawyer Walter Kosteckyj, representing Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, urged the inquiry commissioner, Thomas Braidwood, to recommend that the RCMP’s use-of-force training model be scrapped. He also urged the commissioner to recommend that a provincial police force be created to replace the RCMP in B.C.
October 6, 2009: Don Rosenbloom, the lawyer for the Polish government, tells the inquiry the RCMP officers involved lied to the inquiry as "an intentional act to subvert justice." After Dziekanski died on the airport floor, the four officers collaborated to fabricate their testimony in police statements, he said. The officers’ initial statements said Dziekanski was yelling after police arrived, he was agitated, resisted police commands and grabbed a stapler and began swinging it wildly at the officers. "All these statements are untrue," Rosenbloom told the inquiry. He said the RCMP then released incorrect information immediately after the incident, telling the public that Dziekanski was Tasered only twice by three officers, instead of five times by four officers.
October 7, 2009: Dziekanski deserved to be stunned, a lawyer representing the rookie officer who zapped the Polish immigrant told an inquiry. Lawyer Ravi Hira, in his final submission to the inquiry probing Dziekanski’s death, portrayed the deceased as a man out of control and argued the use of force was justified. Also the same day, Dziekanski’s mother Zofia Cisowski files a lawsuit for damages against the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and Vancouver Airport Authority. The lawsuit seeks damages for psychological injury, the loss of her son, and her inability to work since the incident. The suit, filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, also seeks punitive damages.
October 11, 2009: RCMP say it will heed a warning from the company that makes Tasers not to fire the weapons at the chests of suspects.
October 13, 2009: A lawyer for Taser International claims the device was not responsible for Dziekanski’s death.
October 27, 2009: Paul Pritchard, 27, the Victoria man who shot the video of the four RCMP officers Tasering Dziekanski, wins a journalism award. He received the first Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Citizen Journalism Award at an event called The Citizen As Journalist: Tasers, The RCMP and Public Perception.
November 3, 2009: Cst. Kwesi Millington, one of the RCMP officers who repeatedly deployed a Taser on Dziekanski files a libel lawsuit against the CBC. He claims the CBC’s coverage of the incident since November 4, 2007, has caused him to suffer "serious embarrassment and distress"; caused him "public ridicule"; and "seriously injured" his reputation, causing him to seek punitive and aggravated damages against the CBC.
November 30, 2009: Cpl. Monty Robinson, another Mountie involved in the Tasering of Dziekanski, is charged with attempting to obstruct justice after a deadly crash involving a motorcyclist in October 2008.
December 8, 2009: Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, found the officers did not attempt to de-escalate the situation nor did they approach the situation "with a measured, coordinated and appropriate response." Kennedy found the use of the Taser against Dziekanski was "premature and inappropriate" and the RCMP members should have provided first aid and monitored Dziekanski’s condition. Kennedy also said he didn’t accept the version of events presented by the RCMP members, who met together prior to providing statements to the police.
December 29, 2009: A finding of misconduct may be considered against the four RCMP officers, the B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled. The constables had earlier applied to the courts to have the notice of misconduct quashed, arguing Braidwood has no authority over members of a federally regulated police force.
March 2, 2010: Officials announce that inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood and British Columbia’s attorney general have agreed that the final report on the second phase of the inquiry will be submitted by May 31.
The report in the controversial death will be made public in June or July.
April 1, 2010: The RCMP tell Zofia Cisowski they are "deeply sorry" for their role in her son’s death. "Your son arrived from Poland eager to begin a new life here in Canada," said RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass. "We are deeply sorry he did not have that opportunity." Along with the apology, Cisowski will receive an undisclosed financial settlement.
She tearfully accepts the apology, saying she is ready to "close this chapter" and move on. "It has been 2 1/2 years since my son died at the Vancouver airport. There was not a single day that I did not cry and analyze what could be done to avoid this tragedy," she tells a media conference, her voice cracking. "I believe the sentiment in the apologies given by federal and provincial authorities will help begin the healing process and clear the path toward my future."
June 18, 2010: The commissioner of the public inquiry into the 2007 Tasering and death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski has ruled that the RCMP officer was "not justified in deploying the weapon against Mr. Dziekanski, given the totality of the circumstances he was facing at the time."