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Harper concerned that RCMP apology in Dziekanski case was not genuine

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is concerned about a "troubling" internal RCMP communication that suggests the force's apology to Robert Dziekanski's mother did not mean they were actually sorry for the specific conduct of their officers in a 2007 confrontation that left the Polish immigrant dead.

Mr. Harper's comments marked an unusual executive-level intervention into the long-running case of Mr. Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish immigrant who died after being tasered during a confrontation with four Mounties at Vancouver airport. Recorded in a widely broadcast video, the incident sparked furious debate about the police use of stun guns.

On Friday, the head of an inquiry into the death of Mr. Dziekanski is to release his final report, based on more than 70 days of hearings.

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"We are disappointed to learn of the e-mail. The apology was very important to Mr. Dziekanski's family and his mother in particular," Sara MacIntyre, a press secretary for Mr. Harper, said Wednesday from Ottawa. "We find the e-mail troubling."

Asked why the PMO was taking a lead on the issue, Ms. MacIntyre would say only that Mr. Harper's office wanted to reiterate the importance of the apology to Mr. Dziekanski's family

Ms. MacIntyre declined comment on further steps the Prime Minister's Office might take on the matter of the e-mail correspondence.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass discusses the apology in an e-mail among documents released by the RCMP Wednesday in fulfilling an access-to-information request.

"Even though the word 'apology' worries some, we are not apologizing for the actions of specific members or saying anything about specific actions," Mr. Bass writes in the March 31 e-mail to staff-relations representative Brian Roach.

The next day, Mr. Bass appeared with Zofia Cisowski - Mr. Dziekanski's mother - in a meeting at which he extended an open apology to her and an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed amount was announced.

"I am apologizing for the loss of her son and where the [commissioner]says we could have done better, from my perspective, that relates to the fact we had to revise our policy and training," Mr. Bass writes.

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He asks Mr. Roach for the opportunity, if necessary, to explain further. "It is important the membership gets the right message as to what we are trying to do [here]"

Inspector Tim Shields, an RCMP spokesman, said Wednesday it was agreed upon before the meeting with Ms. Cisowski on April 1 that the RCMP's apology would not be specific to the actions of its four officers.

"Rather it would be an apology expressing regrets and condolences for the death of her son," he said. "The e-mail in question was simply Gary Bass stating this agreed-upon fact to another officer."

Walter Kosteckyj, Ms. Cisowski's lawyer, said it was his understanding that Mr. Bass was not apologizing on behalf of the four officers, but for the RCMP and its handling of the matter and the fact that they could do better in such cases.

He said he understood Mr. Bass could not apologize for the four officers because he could not make admissions on their behalf given the possibility they could face sanctions for their actions.

As Thomas Braidwood, a retired justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, prepares to wrap up two years of work with the release of his report Friday, Ms. Cisowski said she now firmly believes the four officers involved in her son's death should face criminal charges.

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She blamed her use of medication to help her cope with the stress of the ordeal for earlier comments at odds with that view.

"It was a mistake to say they should not be charged criminally," Ms. Cisowski said from her home in Kamloops.

"Of course they should be charged. Why not?" She said the infamous video of the confrontation, which has been broadcast around the world, shows what the officers did. "They did not do their job. They were not good policemen."

The Crown has ruled out criminal charges against the four officers. Last year, the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected an appeal of a lower-court decision that Mr. Braidwood had jurisdiction to reach conclusions about allegations of misconduct, clearing him to draw such conclusions.

Ms. Cisowski said she continues to be angry about the situation, and the fact that the officers continue to be employed. "I want to find the truth in what the RCMP did and why they did such a bad job," she said.

Ms. Cisowski, 63, said she has to be careful with her spending from the RCMP settlement to make it last for the rest of her life as she is unable to work due to the stresses around her son's death.

"I have to be very careful to use this money for life," she said, declining to disclose the amount of the settlement. "Maybe I will live another 20 years, and I have to be careful, very careful - that's all I can say."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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