VANCOUVER, B.C. – The public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver’s airport heard differing accounts from two Canada Border Services officials Tuesday about whether anything has changed since Dziekanski died during a confrontation with police.
Dziekanski died on the airport floor in October 2007 after he was stunned several times by an RCMP Taser.
Mounties were summoned to deal with Dziekanski after he started throwing furniture in the international arrivals area. He’d wandered around lost for hours in the passengers-only area before the confrontation with police, unable to find his mother.
Brian Hilton, a senior policy adviser with Canada Border Services Agency, told the inquiry that customs officials are still not allowed to release information about passengers to waiting family members.
“So in a practical way, if a family member’s at the airport on the outside waiting for somebody who’s arriving from abroad and that person wants to make an inquiry about the air traveller, what does the policy say about giving out that information?” asked commission lawyer Art Vertlieb.
“Officers, as they’re trained, they know generally they cannot communicate any information about an individual who we have dealt with to anybody else without that individual’s permission,” Hilton answered.
“What would happen if Mr. Dziekanski couldn’t speak English?” Vertlieb asked soon after.
“I’m not sure,” Hilton replied.
Hilton said there is no agency policy in place to page either family members or confused travellers.
And he said interpreters are required only when someone has been deemed inadmissible to Canada.
“The CBSA doesn’t have a policy per se mandating the use of interpreters,” Hilton said. “We do mandate the use of interpreters when we have an admissibility issue.”
But Binder Kooner, head of passenger operations for the agency at the Vancouver airport, told the inquiry that changes have been made since Dziekanski’s death.
“For example, with interpreters we’ve gone through the list of interpreters that we had back in ’07 and we’ve removed people that are no longer available and added additional people onto the list,” Kooner said.
“We’ve also updated our staff list as well, so people that speak different languages, they’ve been added onto that list.”
Kooner said officers have also been directed to be aware of travellers who remain in the customs hall for extended periods of time.
But under questioning by Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski’s mother, Kooner conceded that little has been done in how passengers are tracked once they enter the customs area.
“Am I correct that nothing has changed in the computer system in the way that people are tracked coming through the (primary inspection line) and going through the secondary? It’s the same now as when Mr. Dziekanski was going through?” Kosteckyj asked.
“Yes,” Kooner replied.
Kosteckyj asked Hilton how Dziekanski could sit for hours in the customs area without being helped by agency officers.
Hilton said there’s no law against someone waiting for hours in the customs area.