(AFP) – Nov 27, 2007
VANCOUVER, Canada (AFP) — Canada's customs officials admitted Monday they lost track of a Polish migrant at the Vancouver airport for several hours last month before he apparently panicked, was shocked by a police stun gun, and died.
Robert Dziekanski, 40, died October 14, just minutes after being repeatedly zapped with a Taser device and subdued by four policemen.
Until now, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) remained silent about the case, which raised a national outcry and led Warsaw to formally request an explanation from Ottawa.
Monday, CBSA president Alain Jolicoeur began a press conference with condolences: "On behalf of the CBSA and its employees, I would like to extend our sincere and deepest sympathies to the family of Mr. Dziekanski. Our thoughts are with Mr. Dziekanski's family and friends at this difficult time."
But the CBSA had few answers about how a new immigrant's arrival at the largest airport in Western Canada could turn so terribly wrong.
The coroner, the federal police homicide team, and Canada's national police complaint's commissioner have since launched independent probes of his death, and the British Columbia government announced a public inquiry.
Dziekanski had moved to Canada to live here with his mother. The family's lawyer has said he spoke only Polish, and had never before traveled far from his home town of Pieszyce, Poland.
But due to a mix-up, he waited for his mother inside the airport for almost 10 hours. His mother meanwhile waited outside; eventually she was told by officials he was not there, and left.
Later, police were called after a seemingly frustrated Dziekanski blocked a security door with chairs and a table, and threw a computer of a counter onto the floor. Not long afterwards, he was dead.
A timeline released by the CBSA showed that at 4:09 pm, almost 50 minutes after Dziekanski's arrival, he passed through a first checkpoint, and was told to go through to a secondary line for immigration processing.
He did not show up, and instead vanished in a large area thronging with some 4,000 other travelers.
"The whereabouts of Mr. Dziekanski are unaccounted for," said the CBSA, noting that construction had blocked some of its cameras in the secure area.
At 7:00 pm, a CBSA officer in the secondary area logged a call from a man waiting for "a Polish male seeking entry as a new immigrant." But the officer told the caller no one there fit the description.
Blake Delgaty, CBSA regional director, said the officer had not searched the entire CBSA area, only the immediate zone. "It would be impossible ... to search the entire area, the size of a couple of football fields, coming and going with travellers all the time," he said.
At 9:25 and 9:31 pm, security cameras spotted Dziekanski walking near a baggage carousel.
At 10:35 pm, he appeared at the main exit, but was directed back to the secondary customs and immigration area, where officers tracked down two pieces of luggage containing his immigration documents.
Over the next 45 minutes CBSA officials twice paged the public area for his mother, but she had already left.
Dziekanski was finally released at 12:15 am on October 14, but instead of leaving the secure area, he sat down for another 24 minutes.
At 12:39 am, a CBSA officer escorted him to the exit, where the video and police statements show he became agitated, was arrested and died.
A bystander's video of the arrest showed Dziekanski being shocked less than 60 seconds after federal police first approached the distraught traveler. Four policemen piled onto him as he writhed, screaming in pain, on the floor.
While he was in their secure zone, the CBSA said, "Mr. Dziekanski did not ask any of the (officers) for assistance ... Mr. Dziekanski was given several glasses of water while he was in the secondary processing area.
"All officers who interacted with the traveler did not observe, in their opinion, behavior which would raise any concerns."
Even so, the CBSA said it would now act to add more cameras at the airport, increase patrols of secure areas, update its interpreter lists, and follow travelers between checkpoints to avoid another mishap.
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