RCMP's Elliott cautions against rush to judgment over Dziekanski affair
at 14:19 on March 22, 2009, EDT.
Murray Brewster, THE CANADIAN PRESS
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Most Canadians do not understand the pressures of modern-day policing and should not rush to judgment, nor condemn the RCMP over the Robert Dziekanski affair, the Mounties' top man said Sunday.
The public inquiry into the Polish immigrant's death at the Vancouver airport resumes Monday and RCMP Commissioner William Elliott implored a public to wait for "a sober, sound examination of the facts and the circumstance" before deciding to condemn the force.
"I think the expression, walk a mile in my shoes comes to mind," he said Sunday at the conclusion of a brief visit to Kandahar.
He said he's confident sound assessments and recommendations, not knee-jerk reactions will come out of the inquiry, which has been on hiatus for two weeks.
One Mountie recently testified he was prompted into Tasering Dziekanski when the man, who had thrown a chair and spent 10 hours in the airport, brandished an open stapler in a threatening way.
Dziekanski died after being Tasered and subdued by the Mounties.
Laughter and heckling broke out in the public gallery as RCMP Const. Kwesi Millington, one of four officers called to the airport Oct. 14, 2007, demonstrated how an agitated Dziekanski held the stapler.
The inquiry lawyer asked how "four healthy, young officers" who wore body armour and carried guns could have believed an office tool was a threat.
Clearly frustrated, Elliott said he wasn't going to defend the conduct of the officers, but urged the public to appreciate the difficult, split-second situations faced by cops.
"They don't realize how quickly things happen and they don't realize how quickly often - unfortunately - bad things happen," he told reporters at Kandahar Airfield after meeting with RCMP officers, who are mentoring Afghan police.
"I would just ask Canadians to reflect for a minute before they jump to conclusions. You can have very frightening and very threatening situations. Fortunately we live in a country, unlike the country we are sitting in, where most Canadians do not encounter violence or threatening situations upclose and personal."
Elliott, the first civilian to hold the RCMP's top job, conceded a series of scandals, including the Dziekanski death, have damaged the federal police agency's credibility in the eyes of the public.
But he condemned the alleged character assassination of officers and said the public has "a tendency to want to look at situations as black and white situations."
It was Elliott's first trip to Kandahar to view the police mentoring operation that is headquartered out of the provincial reconstruction base.
The number of police officers assigned to the training program will increase from 34 to 50 by September, he confirmed.
"There is a lot of work to do, (but) there are encouraging signs," the commissioner said.
Training and educating Afghan police officers, many of whom are illiterate, ex-militia members, has been a slow, awkward process.
During a recent visit, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, who is in charge of the cabinet committee on Afghanistan, announced $21 million to pay the salaries of 3,000 police officers over the next two years.
The money will be administered by a United Nations' agency.
The fledgling cops are put through a rudimentary boot camp called Focused District Development, run by the U.S.
The Kandahar reconstruction base was recently given accreditation to begin teaching the course and an advanced level program, the net effect being more officers will be churned out onto the city's dangerous streets.