VANCOUVER, B.C. – The public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski has authority to make findings of misconduct against the four officers who stunned the man with a Taser at Vancouver’s airport, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Monday.
The officers had asked the court to prevent Commissioner Thomas Braidwood from making findings of misconduct when he writes his final report later this year, a court challenge that threatened to further delay the inquiry.
Braidwood had warned the officers he might consider allegations made at the inquiry that they acted improperly and then lied to cover up their actions – potential findings the officers claimed were outside the scope of the inquiry.
But Justice Arne Silverman rejected all of the officers’ arguments, setting the stage for closing submissions at the inquiry to begin as scheduled on Friday.
“In my view, the petitioners are wrong,” said Silverman, who heard arguments on Friday that stretched well into the evening.
“None of the allegations in these notices (of misconduct), if they are substantiated, come close to a finding of criminal liability.”
The officers asked the court to overturn two decisions by Braidwood: his decision to issue the notices in the first place, and his refusal to provide them with a detailed list of particulars for the allegations.
They argued the accusations being considered were essentially criminal offences – assault, obstruction of justice and perjury – that were beyond the authority of a provincial inquiry, which can’t assign criminal or civil blame.
The officers also claimed that because they were federal police officers, governed by federal legislation, a provincial inquiry had no jurisdiction to assess their conduct.
The lawyers for the officers left court without commenting to reporters, and they didn’t say whether they would consider an appeal.
If the officers decide to appeal Silverman’s decision, it’s not clear how that might affect the timing of closing arguments, but the lead counsel for the inquiry said he’s planning to be at the inquiry this Friday.
“It allows the commissioner to carry on with arguments and then work to getting a report so people will know what this is all about,” Art Vertlieb said outside court on Monday.
“It’s an important decision for the commissioner and everybody to get this work to a conclusion.”
The court challenge could have further delayed a public inquiry that was supposed to have been finished by now.
The inquiry, ordered soon after Dziekanski’s death, was originally scheduled to begin last year, but was postponed several times while prosecutors decided whether to lay criminal charges against the officers.
The RCMP said at the time that neither the force nor the officers could participate with the threat of criminal charges hanging over them.
That changed last December, when Crown prosecutors announced they wouldn’t be charging the four Mounties.
The Braidwood commission, which finished hearing evidence in May after four months of testimony, was the second of a two-part inquiry announced after Dziekanski’s death.
The first was a study commission held last year that broadly examined Taser use in the province. A report from that phase is expected to be in the hands of the provincial government by the end of the month.