Brutality, Killing, Guns and Tasers:
All the Instruments of Police Repression
By Mike Chimenti
This fall, one of the worst crime waves in the history of Canada swept across the country, catching the attention not only of people living in Canada, but people across the world. Despite the major media’s recent attempts to focus public attention on gang violence, the most violent crime wave was perpetrated by police forces and agencies across the country.
Between September 18th and November 21st, five people were killed by Tasers, bringing the total in this country to 21 deaths in four years.
A Brutal History
The most high profile of these police murders happened at Vancouver International Airport on October 14th, when Robert Dziekanki’s murder was caught on video tape, later to be released to the world on the internet. The video exposes the brutal reality of police in an imperialist country - shoot first, forget about questions. Roughly 25 seconds after arriving at the Canada Border Services Agency centre inside of the airport, the RCMP had shot Robert Dziekanski with a Taser, delivering 50,000 volts, multiple times. Mr. Dziekanski died within minutes.
On the same day, Quilem Registre was Tasered by Montreal police. Thirty hours later, he was delivered to a hospital in critical condition where he died after three days.
Quilem Registre’s death came a month after the death of Claudio Castagnetta in Quebec City. After being Tasered by police on September 18th, Mr. Castagnetta was taken to the Quebec City jail, where he was to be held before being transferred to another prison the next day. According to officers, he began hitting his head against the wall during the day of September 19th. Despite this, he was transferred, with a helmet on, to the second prison as planned. Some time after arriving at the second jail, Claudio Castagnetta was taken to hospital and pronounced dead.
On the 19th of November, RCMP in Chilliwack BC, pepper sprayed, tasered, and beat Robert Thurston Knipstrom with batons. After all three forms of ‘non lethal’ force were used against him, Mr. Knipstrom was taken away lying face down on a gurney with his hands bound behind his back. Five days later, Robert Knipstrom was dead.
Two days later, Howard Hyde became the 21st person in Canada to die from a Taser assault. Mr. Hyde was taken to hospital in medical distress immediately after being Tasered but was cleared by hospital staff and transferred to jail, where he soon died - 30 hours after being shocked by a Taser.
The firestorm of public outrage in Canada and worldwide sent the ruling class into an emergency damage control campaign. No less than eight separate inquiries, reviews or hearings were announced in the days after the video of Robert Dziekanski’s death was made public. Inquiries and ‘policy reviews’ were announced by the federal government, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the BC government, the RCMP and even the government of Poland.
Police, A Killing Machine
“Deaths at the hands of police are not rare events … No one knows the scope of the problem” – Murray Mollard, Executive Director of BC Civil Liberties Association, September 23, 2007, CanWest News
Unfortunately for regular working people in Canada, this is not the first spate of inquiries into police violence that governments of all levels in Canada have needed to stage in order to trick working people into believing that these incidents of violence are random occurrences, and not the systematic norm.
Unfortunately, concrete statistics on the number of deaths in police custody are very difficult to find, regardless of the high number across the country. There are however, some extremely telling indicators:
In British Columbia, at least 22 people were killed by police between 2002 – 2006. 267 people in BC died while being held by police from 1992 to 2007, or roughly 18 people per year. More than one a month.
Some of these cases are notoriously well known. Frank Paul, an Indigenous man dragged unconscious from a holding cell and left to freeze to death in an alleyway in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Jeff Berg, hit in the neck with the butt of a gun while being arrested in an East Vancouver alley, was killed by a brain aneurism 2 days later. Gerald Chenery, shot 12 times in a DTES alley by 2 rookie cops. Ian Bush, a 22 year old man, shot in the back of the head while in the Houston RCMP jail.
“There were Departments that appeared to ignore certain clear requirements under the Police Act…In most cases, these problems persisted for some years, which suggests that the Discipline Authority was unaware of the statutory requirements, unaware that the Department was not meeting the requirements, or consciously chose to ignore the statutory requirements.” - taken from Judge Josiah Wood’s audit of 294 public complaints against police in BC.
In all of these cases, the police involved in the deaths were investigated by other police. No outside eyes or ‘impartial’ parties were involved in deciding whether or not the cops had committed murder.
According to the audit mentioned above, the former judge found that “complaint files from a number of Departments… demonstrated an unawareness of, or an inability or unwillingness to abide by, the legal and constitutional limits of police powers of search and seizure… [I]n most, if not all, of these cases, no attempt was made…to follow the other requirements under…the Criminal Code. In virtually all such cases, complaints were routinely dismissed without any or any significant investigation…”
"Unlike the RCMP, I actually conducted a reconstruction with actual human models to try and prove or disprove Const. Koester's version of the positioning in the context of the observed blood stain evidence. I was not able to prove his version and I am still waiting for someone to show me otherwise," – Constable Joseph Slemko, National Post, November 30, 2007.
In the case of Ian Bush, the young man shot in the back of the head while in the custody of a lone RCMP officer, the RCMP conducted their own internal investigation and found that the ‘evidence’ supported the claims of Constable Koestner, the officer who shot Ian Bush.
But, according to Joseph Slemko, an Edmonton police officer and internationally recognized blood stain expert, the evidence doesn’t match the statement. Slemko was hired by the Bush family to analyze the evidence and see if officer Koester’s story held up to science. Koester claims that Ian Bush was choking him from behind, and that he reached backwards and shot Bush in the back of the head. Slemko’s reconstruction shows that Koester was standing either behind or beside Ian Bush when he was killed. Regardless of this evidence, RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner, Paul Kennedy, stuck to the RCMP’s own internal investigation and defended Koester. Commissioner Kennedy is the same person in charge of the ‘investigation’ into Robert Dziekanski’s killing.
The Killing of Robert Dziekanski
"He was breathing and had a pulse, and so first aid was not required," - RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dale Carr - November 30, 2007, National Post
"We were doing our assessment, and we found no breath and no pulse," - Geoff Lake, Richmond Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief – November 30, 2007, National Post
Can we expect a different outcome from this new inquiry? Already there are conflicting reports about what happened after Robert Dziekanski lost consciousness and collapsed on the floor.
According to members of Richmond’s Fire-Rescue unit, Mr. Dziekanski was not breathing and had no pulse when they arrived on scene. RCMP admit they did not perform any first aid on Mr. Dziekanski. Regardless, Mr. Dziekanski was still in handcuffs, which the RCMP refused to remove “because officers had a safety concern”. The handcuffs were finally removed at the request of paramedics who arrived moments after the fire department, and also found no breathing or pulse.
Will any real changes come from all of the review panels, inquiries, inquests and complaints? Who will answer for the RCMP’s policy change in August that now allows RCMP officers to torture victims with multiple shocks? Will police forces, government agencies and politicians listen to the UN Committee Against Torture’s decision that Tasers are a form of torture? Will the police that use Tasers be worried about being charged for crimes under the UN Convention Against Torture?
The answers to all of these questions depend on the actions of regular poor, working and oppressed people in Canada. Until the political interests of the masses of working people in Canada are represented, the systemic racism and violence of police forces will continue. In order to protect ourselves and each other from police brutality, we must stand together and demand that police be accountable to each and every person in Canada, and not to other police officers or political appointees. Control over police forces must come from the grassroots level. Under the capitalist system, the police department is the killing machine of the state to protect private property and maintain capitalist rule. The killing of Robert Dzienkanski, Ian Bush, Frank Paul and many others is good proof of that. This institution cannot be reformed but only dismantled. Policing is the responsibility of people and must be operated and controlled by communities and mass base local committees.
Punish All Criminal Police!
Stop Police Brutality!
Ban All Types of Tasers!
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