Dziekanski death still haunts Canadian relations with Poland

Poles are slow to forget the immigrant's death, while Canadian secrecy irks the Polish government. By Jeff Davis (external - login to view)
Published November 4, 2009
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(external - login to view) (external - login to view) (external - login to view) If award-winning Polish filmmaker Dariusz Jablonski has his way, the electric crackle of Tasers and screams of agony will once again echo through the halls of the Vancouver International airport.

With almost $4 million in funding from Poland, and perhaps more from Canadian financiers like Telefilm Canada, Immigrant will be a docu-drama retracing the fateful final voyage of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

Though he spends most of his time producing these days, Mr. Jablonski felt compelled to get back into the director's chair for Immigrant, and make a point that many Poles are still awaiting justice in the Dziekanski case.

Though two years have passed, the taser-related death of Mr. Dziekanski still casts a long shadow over Canada-Poland relations. It appears that the graphic incident has left a dent in Polish perceptions of Canada, with many Poles suspecting RCMP officers are being protected by a cover-up.

And while Poland's ambassador says bilateral relations remain on an even keel, the lack of Canadian transparency and co-operation in the case has become an irritant. The Polish government wants to see charges laid against the officers involved, but the BC Crown said in December no charges would be laid

Mr. Jablonski said that since the Solidarity movement in the late 1980s, Canada has occupied a "very special place in the Polish emotional map of the world," being known as a country where thousands of democratic activists found refuge from Communism.

But Mr. Jablonski said he was shocked and riveted by Mr. Dziekanski's death, adding that the case caught the attention of fellow filmmakers across Europe. The incident, he said, made a "really huge impression" on Poles, who are now questioning whether Canada was the "dreamland" they thought it was.

While Immigrant will be shown in Polish cinemas and on television, Mr. Jablonski said that "this is a story for an international audience" and could be showcased at film festivals in Toronto and around the world as early as next fall.

"We have to learn out of this disaster," he said during an interview Monday. "I think these [Canadian] people should understand how much they lose in [the] eyes of the international audience."

As editor-in-chief of the Krakow Post, Anna Spysz was well-placed to see the waves Mr. Dziekanski's death caused in his native land.

"I remember there was quite bit of outrage," she said last week. "First of all it seemed like a complete overreaction by the Mounties, and in general it just seems like the way it was handled was a bit of a cover up, and you almost got the sense of a conspiracy theory.

"There was a feeling that the lack of punishment was unjust," she added.

David Preston, who served as Canada's ambassador to Poland until a few weeks ago, said that in Polish public and government circles alike there was a high degree of awareness about the Dziekanski case. This concern went to the highest levels, he said.

"I think I was called in four times to the Foreign Ministry on this," he said last week during an event at Carleton University's Centre for European Studies. "The foreign minister and the prime minister wanted to express their concern."

While Mr. Preston said Polish officials assured him the Dziekanski affair wouldn't stand in the way of good bilateral relations, Canada suffered in the court of public opinion.

"The Poles have decided that the police are guilty," he said. "What several people said to me was: 'I could understand this happening in the United States. I don't understand this happening in Canada. Our image of Canada was entirely different.'"

Polish Canadians reacted to Mr. Dziekanski's death in much the same anger and sadness as other Canadians, said Wladyslaw Lizon, national president of the Canadian Polish Congress.

"Some commented that it was a murder, of course I don't think we should go that far," he said. "I would call the actions of the police unprofessional and careless, but [his death] wasn't intentional."

Mr. Lizon said Polish Canadians are anxious to see those responsible for Mr. Dziekanski's death brought to justice, a process he said would restore public faith in the RCMP.

Since the incident, Mr. Lizon said he has met with top government officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan and RCMP Commissioner William Elliott.

"I was assured by every single one that this case would be dealt with and nothing would be swept under the rug," he said. "I have full confidence this eventually will happen."

Unfinished business

Also trying to ensure the Dziekanski affair isn't swept under the rug is Polish Ambassador Piotr Ogrodzinski.

Mr. Ogrodzinski said he does not think the case has had "any direct influence on the Polish-Canadian relations," and that the Braidwood Inquiry "did a really splendid job with digging to the bottom of this tragedy."

However, he said, the Braidwood Inquiry is not an institution of justice. He said he wants to see the RCMP officers responsible for Mr. Dziekanski's death brought before the courts.

"I would like to see them charged," he said. "Basically the position of my government is that with this deeper knowledge [provided by the inquiry, B.C. Attorney's office], we would hope that the BC attorney general will reconsider its position in this case and formulate accusations."

Another irritation in the relationship, he said, is the fact that Polish investigators were denied access to important documents about Mr. Dziekanski's demise.

Following Mr. Dziekanski's death, a Polish prosecutor's office began an investigation, which Mr. Ogrodzinski said is normal procedure "if, under not so fully clear circumstances, a Polish citizen loses his life outside Poland." The Polish prosecutors made a formal request to Canadian authorities that the documents be sent according to the terms of an agreement of mutual legal assistance between the two countries.

Despite the fact that a group of RCMP officers were permitted to visit Poland to investigate Mr. Dziekanski's background, the ambassador said, Canadian authorities denied Polish investigators access to the requested documents.

"We did have problems because the Polish ministry of justice wanted to have access to documentations, and I regret that this access was denied," Mr. Ogrodzinski said. "Polish authorities were very open to [the RCMP]...and we were a little bit surprised that there was no real co-operation from the Canadian side."

Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer representing Mr. Dziekanski's mother, Zofia Cisowski, said this lack of co-operation and transparency has hurt the relationship between Canada and Poland.

"It's made people not see us as that same gentle country of democratic institutions, when they hear the RCMP came to Poland to dig up dirt on Dziekanski but no one [amongst them] will accept responsibility."

He said the fact that no Canadian authorities will assume responsibility for Mr. Dziekanski's death doesn't sit with most Poles.

"It took 24 seconds to go from zero to the point where he was tasered pretty much to death," he said. "And no one said we could have done better; certainly not the RCMP and not the Canadian Border Services [Agency], who said they wouldn't have done anything differently."


Oh Canada.......................................?
Last edited by china; Jan 7th, 2010 at 11:43 PM..