OTTAWA - A senior RCMP officer has apologized for the death of a Polish immigrant who was zapped with a Mountie stun gun.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Sweeney's statement Monday is perhaps the clearest sign of public regret from the force over the death of Robert Dziekanski.

"We are very sorry for Mr. Dziekanski's death, and are committed to learning as much as possible from this terrible event," Sweeney told the Senate security and defence committee.

"We know that we need to work hard each and every day to earn the respect and trust of Canadians and to sustain and improve our national police service."

Dziekanski died after four Mounties confronted the Polish man at the Vancouver airport in October 2007, stunned him repeatedly with a Taser and pinned him to the floor.

The RCMP says it has changed the way it uses the electronic guns since the high-profile death, which was caught on amateur videotape and beamed around the world.

A British Columbia inquiry led by Thomas Braidwood is probing the incident.

Sweeney said he couldn't get into details that might influence the inquiry's outcome.

However, he said in general the force trains officers to try to defuse tense encounters without resorting to physical force.

"But sometimes things happen so quickly that the outcome would not necessarily be the one that we would have desired at the time. It happens in a millisecond," Sweeney said.

"We must spend more time with our training to use de-escalation techniques in a much more effective manner than perhaps we have in the past."

After the meeting, Sweeney told reporters that de-escalation "should be of first and foremost consideration" for our men and women.

"We're very sorry that Mr. Dziekanski died. Obviously when we go to work every day, our men and women don't ever anticipate that they're going to be in a situation where somebody has lost their life as a consequence of interventions by the police," he said.

"Not that we know all of the facts and circumstances of this event. We probably will not have all of that information until Mr. Braidwood responds . . . but it's a very sad, tragic circumstance."

The inquiry has at times underscored stark differences between the video of Dziekanski's death and statements by RCMP officers about the airport confrontation. The tape reveals an officer continued to zap the confused, agitated traveller even after he crumpled to the floor.

During the committee meeting Monday, Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell said there seemed to be "almost a conspiracy" within the force to cover up the facts behind the Dziekanski incident.

"It's allegations at this point, but they're pretty extreme and pretty intense allegations," Mitchell said. "It seems to me that that is one of the most corrosive things that could ever happen to any organization, and certainly to a police organization."

Sweeney said he fundamentally disagreed with the notion the RCMP "is characterized or defined by this one incident."

He noted the Mounties respond to three million service calls a year, and just Monday made significant arrests of B.C. gang members.

Sweeney said when the Braidwood report is done, the public will have "a different perspective" on the Dziekanski case than the one prevalent in the media.

He said it is difficult for the RCMP to be "swamped by a deluge of criticism but unable to officially respond."

After the meeting, Sweeney cited the effect the Dziekanski drama has had on the force.

"All I can say is that this tragic event playing out day in and day out in the media, and for the public . . . it has not promoted confidence in our organization, there's no question. And we have to respond, when the reports are completed . . . with an informed series of actions."

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