How Police Officers Work on Ottawa Street

The headline of today’s Record, the local paper of Waterloo Region, has that bold assonance that newspaper editors just love: “Shooting shocks shoppers.”

On Tuesday night, Waterloo regional police confronted a suspect they believed was attempting to rob a Shoppers Drug Mart on Ottawa Street South. Shots were fired and the suspect (identified here), took a bullet in the chest, and was pronounced dead at Grand River Hospital.

I bring this up because its interesting comparing this incident with the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport, at the hands of four RCMP officers who tazered him within 29 seconds of their arrival, tazered him again, and then, among other things, put pressure on the man’s neck while restraining him, likely causing death by suffocation.

Most of the blogosphere, from the left all the way to the right, were rightly shocked by this incident caught on video. Bob Tarantino himself posted recently what I saw as the best expression of outrage about the whole incident.

Having watched the long version of the Robert Dziekanski video (that’s a six-minute version - there’s also an approximately nine-minute version here), I’m not sure how anyone can come to a conclusion other than that the police conduct on there is utterly … appalling. That’s the most docile “violent” person I think I’ve ever seen - how it is that what he was doing warranted two Taser shots is beyond me. What you see on that video is homicide - and now it’ll be up to the courts to decide what type of homicide, and the punishment (if any) to be handed down for it.

But I have to admit that, for me, coming a close second to the infuriating manner in which Robert Dziekanski died, is this meme:

Somehow, despite his total lack of knowledge of English, Mr. Dziekanski was cleared to enter Canada at a Border Services inspection point before straying into baggage claim, within the secure area of the airport, and remaining in various places, unable to communicate with anyone, for 10 hours or more.

People who don’t speak English! In our country! Crossing the border!

I’m beggared by the sentiment.

That sentence is taken from a National Post editorial. And that’s not even the bad part


But gradually, apologists for the questionable conduct of these four officers have appeared in the comments section of these blogs, accusing outraged bloggers of Monday morning quarterbacking. This has been backed by a shameful comment by Public Safety Member Stockwell Day, questioning why we would be so concerned about the death of one innocent man when there’s so many drunk driving deaths to worry about. Excuse me?!

The contempt that these individuals have for decently appalled people like Bob, Dr. Dawg and myself, that we’d question police procedures in the wake of an innocent man’s death, drips from every pore. They question not only the bloggers, but more often than not try to lay the blame on the victim (Robert Dziekanski was aggressive, they say, even though he wasn’t, really), and they try to deflect criticism on the use of tazers by saying that without these weapons, the police would have to resort to a billy club or, worse, their guns, and Robert Dziekanski would likely have ended up dead anyway. Is there no pleasing you anti-cop critics, they stab?

Well, here in Kitchener we have an incident where tazers were not used, where a gun was drawn and fired, and a man is now dead. Cue the outrage? Well, maybe not so much.

The incident will have to be reviewed by the Special Investigations Unit as per procedure, but judging from the tone of the article, judging from the response of the people at scene, it seems to me to me that the Waterloo regional police did what they had to do in the heat of the moment, to protect bystanders and bring a dangerous situation to a close quickly, though I await the SIUs report on this matter.

Comparing the incidents at Vancouver Airport and on Ottawa Street, I have to ask myself what makes the tone of Kitchener’s incident less alarming to me and others around me than what happened in Vancouver? Could it be because after the gunshot occurred, a police officer immediately set about trying to resuscitate the man? Could it be that during the attempted robbery, several employees locked themselves in a back room out of fear for their own safety? Could it be because the Special Investigations Unit is diligently pursuing the case to ensure that proper procedure was followed, instead of making excuses and “non-apology apologies” like Stockwell Day?

I will admit one thing about the incident in Vancouver Airport. The tazering in and of itself probably didn’t kill Robert Dziekanski. I find it more likely that the RCMP pressing his knee into the neck of Robert Dziekanski had more of a direct contribution, along with the RCMP officers’ failure to even attempt to perform CPR. The attention the tazering has received is more due to how well it lines up with other tazering deaths in the past, but that’s not at the heart of our complaint.

What was caught on tape in the Vancouver airport was not a tazering death, but a shocking display poorly executed police procedure, by people who should know better and, worse, are charged with the most serious job of protecting us. A man that others at the scene knew wasn’t armed, who just needed to be talked down, was instead rushed, brutally assaulted, and killed. You think we’d complain if Robert Dziekanski was clubbed to death or shot? You bet! Because he was not a threat that needed to be responded to in this fashion. He didn’t have the witnesses at the Airport as terrified as the employees at the Ottawa Street Shoppers Drug Mart. And when he was down, the assault continued.

That could have been any of us beneath those four officers. You bet we care.

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