The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is investigating the actions of top RCMP brass following Robert Dziekanski's death in 2007 to determine whether frontline officers involved were adequately supported in the aftermath of the heavily investigated incident.
Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, died after being tasered by an RCMP officer in Vancouver International Airport. The incident sparked a series of inquiries, with the four officers involved becoming the subjects of internal investigations and the Braidwood Inquiry conducted by Justice Thomas Braidwood.
All four officers were charged with perjury, but only two of them — Monty Robinson and Kwesi Millington — were convicted. Two Mounties, Bill Bentley and Gerry Rundel, were found not guilty of perjury.
The officers involved have stated repeatedly that they felt scapegoated by the RCMP and called for an investigation of the RCMP's most senior officers, past and present, including current Commissioner Brenda Lucki, in the alleged coverup.
In December 2019 the RCMP agreed to open a file into allegations that mounties involved in Dziekanski's death of were unfairly treated by their bosses. And in July the RCMP asked the OPP to investigate the actions of the senior bosses, including alleged criminal complaints that key documents were withheld.
Issues go back 'over a decade'
Journalist and author Curt Petrovich, who covered all the aspects of the case and eventually published his findings in a book, said it was "remarkable that 13 years later there are criminal allegations being considered against the RCMP for what it did or didn't do in this case to either assist its members or not."
"Clearly they felt that this had to be done — if for no other reason than to be seen as having done everything it could to investigate serious allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the senior managers," he said.
Dziekanski's death, captured on video by bystanders, and the aftermath of the incident, has been the subject of over a dozen investigations over 13 years. The OPP was originally seconded to determine whether the officers involved were investigated properly in the aftermath of the incident. Now the agency will investigate whether senior RCMP brass, through willful or negligent action, failed to give the four officers all the information needed to defend themselves at the time.
"The complaints deal with issues related to how their managers supported them during the early days of the investigation, [and] how senior RCMP officers either did or didn't provide proper information to the criminal defence lawyer — so the OPP is looking into issues that go back over a decade but are still playing out," said Petrovich, who called the saga "the story that will never end."
Players involved cite need for transparency
During the Braidwood Inquiry, the four officers gave explanations as to why their versions of events were different from video of the incident. None were charged in connection with actions that led to Dziekanski's death, but with perjury for the answers they gave about the discrepancy between the video and how they initially had remembered it.
Robinson, who was the senior officer at the 2007 scene, said he had little faith the investigation by the OPP would uncover new information, citing a lack of accountability within the RCMP and his allegation that documents he believe contained key evidence were withheld from criminal court.
"[The system] needs a massive overhaul. If you have people at the top withholding documents that vindicate people, that should be a concern for everybody," he said.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Shirley Heafey, a Vancouver lawyer who was chair of the RCMP public complaints commission for 10 years, said she felt it was a step in the right direction for leadership to be investigated by an external authority — but also echoed the need for all documentation to be handed over to the OPP.
"When you're asking a staff sergeant to do an investigation about their top bosses, that's a huge conflict. It's a first where another agency is looking at a top layer of the RCMP," she said.
"It's good that the OPP is doing this but if they're not given all the information this won't go anywhere again."
The OPP's criminal investigation branch, which will be leading the investigation, has not released a timeline for its completion.