In British Columbia, police still investigate themselves in cases where there may be suggestions of wrongdoing. Despite the obvious conflicts of interest inherent in such a system, our politicians have done nothing to address the problem. As a result, public confidence in the criminal justice system is waning and costs are rising.

Take the Robert Dziekanski case, for example. After the confused Polish immigrant arrived at Vancouver International Airport on October 13, 2007, he was confronted by four uniformed RCMP officers. He died moments later. In the initial stages of the RCMP investigation of the fatality, spokesperson Pierre Lemaitre misled the public about what had happened. When a citizen delivered a videotape of the incident to the RCMP investigators, they initially refused to return a copy to him. After he launched a lawsuit for its return, it finally became public:

The videotape clearly contradicted the RCMP’s description of the incident and, to any objective observer, showed that one or more of the officers had used excessive force when they shocked Mr. Dziekanski with 50,000 volts of TASER electricity before attempting to reason with him.

The RCMP investigation of itself, and the ensuing deliberations by Crown Counsel as to whether any charges were warranted, lasted nearly a year. Predictably, no charges were laid.

To attempt to quell the public uproar over the shocking incident, a public inquiry was launched. One can only guess how much the inquiry will cost BC taxpayers, but it surely must be in the millions of dollars. At the second phase of the inquiry, which commenced Monday, no fewer than 23 lawyers were in attendance, most being paid from the public purse. If we conservatively estimate that their collective meters are running at $6,000 per hour, assume that the inquiry will last six months, add an equal number of hours for out of court preparation, well, you can do the math…

All this cost might have been avoided, and the criminal justice system and police would appear much more respectable, if the fatal incident had been investigated by an independent body with the authority to lay charges.

Sometimes a single citizen can show more common sense in a letter to the editor than can a roomful of lawyers. Here’s a copy of a letter from the January 19, 2009 edition of Vancouver Province newspaper:

“Having viewed the video of the police Tasering of Robert Dziekanski numerous times on TV and on YouTube, as well as having followed the media reporting of the incident continuously, I must say that there are eight items that stand clear in my mind:

1. Mr. Dziekanski had endured a very long flight to arrive at Vancouver airport only to suffer a much longer delay (in terms of stress, not time) in the customs area. No one spoke his language and apparently he barely understood English, yet when communicated to by hand signals and gestures he complied immediately and without fail.

2. When Mr. Dziekanski became understandably irritated, airport security, rather than trying to assist him, merely stood by and watched. In fact, they moved toward him then retreated, and more than once.

3. When the four heavily armed (pistols, batons, flak vests and gloves) police officers arrived and crowded into the atrium, Mr. Dziekanski immediately and naturally assumed a defensive posture.

4. On no less than two occasions after their arrival, the police indicated via hand gestures where Mr. Dziekanski should locate himself — to which he immediately complied.

5. At no point did the officers give or attempt to give hand signals indicating Mr. Dziekanski should reveal what he was holding in his hand or hands.

6. As the officers began to encircle Mr. Dziekanski, it became apparent that he was fearful of the officers.

7. Most important, when the officers first arrived, who briefed them about the situation?

8. Most important of all: Please tell me again, why was it necessary to Taser Mr. Dziekanski?

Stephen Jacura, Burnaby”