Tragic Incident at the Vancouver Airport

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Jill and Steve discuss the tragic death of a Polish immigrant at the Vancouver International Airport.

Steve: Hello Jill.

Jill: Hi Steve.

Steve: How are you?

Jill: Good thank you.

Steve: You know, we often talk about what we did over the weekend and it’s mostly happy things.

Last time you were talking about visiting your family or your in-laws in Prince George.

You flew up there and flew back down for the weekend, but there was a very unhappy event that happened at Vancouver Airport about a week ago, which was very much in the news over the weekend.

Do you know what I’m referring to?

Jill: Yeah, it happened several weeks ago. It’s been on the news for quite a few weeks already.

Steve: I thought it was the 13th of October. Yeah, a long time ago; 13th of October it happened, right?

Jill: Yeah, it was like a month ago or something.

Steve: A month ago.

Jill: Yeah.

Steve: You know what I’m referring to, yeah.

Just to explain here and then we can maybe talk about it.

An immigrant to Canada from Poland who spoke no English arrived at the airport, somehow made his way through Immigration and then stayed in the airport for nine hours.

I think it’s because his mother told him to stay by the baggage carousel and to wait for her there.

Jill: And she was also at the airport waiting for him, but somehow they weren’t in the same area; they missed each other.

Steve: Well, because she told him to wait by the baggage carousel, which is, you know, an area that’s not…people who come to greet arriving passengers are not allowed into the baggage area.

Jill: Not the international baggage area, no.

Steve: No, because that’s a customs area.

He, the passenger, the arriving passenger, still has to, you know, go through that final customs control before they’re into Canada so, you know, those instructions were not correct.

He was waiting and waiting and, of course, she couldn’t be there and he got increasingly agitated and then he apparently started throwing things around.

He was a very big man; apparently, he was 6 foot 9 inches tall.

Jill: Oh wow, I didn’t know that.

Steve: Very, very, big man, spoke no English, was getting agitated and throwing things around.

He threw chairs and a computer; I don’t know all the details.

Someone called the police, the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

They arrived and they really didn’t give the man much of a chance.

I think they said something, you know, they addressed a few words to him in English he couldn’t understand and then they immediately hit him with an electric shock with what’s known as a taser gun and then they threw him to the ground.

He resisted very strenuously and so they hit him again with the taser gun and while fighting with the man he died.

I think that’s about the story.

Jill: Yeah, I mean, I heard there was actually a young man at the airport who caught it on videotape and there has been a videotape released of it.

I’ve seen him interviewed a couple of times and his version was that the man, by the time the RCMP showed up, had actually calmed down considerably, was much more calm than he had been and that the police taser’d him once, he fell to the ground; two police officers were on him holding him down.

And this man said that at this point he wasn’t resisting, he was not resisting at all, and then they gave him another shot, which was totally unnecessary and then he died.

Steve: Mind you, we don’t know.

You know, the one man who’s taking this picture with his camera may have the impression that this man was not resisting.

The policemen who were involved in trying to restrain the man may have had a different impression, so I think that’s pretty subjective.

You know, I think everyone’s impression is that the police were unnecessarily aggressive in dealing with this man and, apparently, it’s not recommended that you taser someone twice, you know, in rapid succession.

Jill: No, because what is it 50,000 volts or something?

I don’t know these things very well, but it’s a large number.

Steve: It’s a big shock.

Now, apparently, very few people die from taser guns.

In support of a taser gun is the argument that the alternative is to hit the guy over the head with a big stick or something.

Jill: Or to shoot him.

Steve: Yeah, okay, obviously it’s better to use a taser gun then to shoot him, but the other alternative is to try to restrain him with other forms of violence, bearing in mind that, not necessarily in this case but in a case where a policeman is required to restrain someone who is violent and who might as they say sometimes have almost super-human strength if they’re struggling, then the question is what should you use.

What is going to cause the least possible injury both to the policeman and to the person you’re trying to restrain.

I mean, I don’t know what the arguments for and against the taser gun are.

A couple of things that struck me though in this whole thing… First of all, I must say I am not one of these people who just likes to criticize the police because I think the police have a very difficult job to do.

I mean, we are very thankful to have the police around if we’re being, you know, burglarized or attacked or something like that, so we do need the police and the police need to be able to apply some form of violence at certain times in certain situations.

It would appear that the procedure that these policemen used was not the best procedure, so that was not a model of how to deal with this situation.

Jill: No, I mean, I don’t understand why they didn’t just taser him once.

There were several police officers and from what I saw on the tape it didn’t seem like it was necessary to taser him the second time.

I don’t know if he still would have died having only been taser’d once, I’m not sure, but that seemed unnecessary.

But, you know, the thing that struck me I think even more about this whole situation, tragic situation, is the fact that nobody at the airport, nobody working there, noticed this man standing around for nine hours.

Even if he couldn’t speak English there is body language.

Nobody tried to take him somewhere, sit him down, get him some water and try to help him.

Steve: I know.

Jill: I just think that’s appalling.

Steve: It’s appalling, first of all, on the part of the Immigration officials who somehow processed him through; somehow they communicated with him.

Second of all, yeah, people just standing there.

Mind you, if you’re arriving on an international flight and you’ve been flying for six, seven, ten, twelve, hours and you see someone who is 6 foot 9 speaking a strange language you’re not that interested, to some extent.

It would have been nicer if someone had helped him, but I think the Immigration officials, the airport officials, there is even an immigrant greeting service that receives a lot of money from the federal government and who advertise on their website that they greet 50,000 people a year at Vancouver Airport to help them cope with the stresses of coming to a foreign land, well where were they; where were they.

Jill: Exactly.

Steve: Even from a security point of view, to have someone wandering around the airport, going out of the customs area, going back into the customs area.

I think there is blame to be attached to the policemen who were operating in a, you know, they were trying to make very quick decisions and I think they made unfortunate decisions, but there are a lot of other people to be blamed in the process.

Jill: That was sort of my feeling too is that I just couldn’t believe that not one person at the airport thought that it was peculiar that some man was just hanging around for nine hours and that nobody did anything.

Steve: But, you know, the other thing too is that if this man had spoken even a few words of English or if the policemen, and that’s much more unlikely, but if there had been someone around who spoke Polish or, you know, Czech or some related language, you know.

Obviously, for the policemen when they arrived if they had been able to talk to this man I don’t think we would have had this situation.

Jill: I agree.

Steve: If the man had been able to say it’s okay, okay, I’m okay, please don’t hit me or something or if the policemen had been able to say, you know, take it easy, calm down, what’s your problem?

But there was just no communication.

Jill: No, none.

Steve: Zero communication.

You know, I have on two occasions been in situations where I have seen travelers who couldn’t speak the local language or English and I’ve seen the anxiety and I have intervened.

Once a pair of Japanese girls that were flying on an airline in Canada and once with a Russian man who was blind or partly blind and who was being very sort of not properly helped in a hotel lobby in Holland because people were busy.

The situation becomes much, much, more sort of…the anxiety level of the person just increases dramatically when they can’t communicate.

Jill: Of course, yeah.

Steve: Yeah, but there will be a lot of questions asked about the use of tasers, about the appropriate police procedures for this kind of situation, about the way the airport is organized.

And, you know, I agree with you.

One thing, apparently, this man’s mother was waiting outside and she had someone with her who spoke very good English.

They asked the airport officials and the airport officials made some kind of public address announcement in English, which he would not have understood, undoubtedly mispronouncing his name.

Besides which the area that he was in, and which the airport officials would have know that he’s in the international arrivals baggage area, there is no public address loudspeaker there.

Jill: Oh.

Steve: And they did this and then they reported back to his mother and said no, your son is not in the airport.

I mean that’s just unbelievable.

Jill: That’s not a thorough check.

Steve: That’s nothing!

Jill: No.

Steve: You know, there’s something almost Kafkaesque about this whole thing.

It’s an organization which doesn’t care.

Now you could argue that the individual passengers should also have tried to help and I agree with you, but the system in place is so impersonal and so uncaring that it just grinds and nobody cares; nobody cares for the individual.

I mean, I can’t believe it.

He was accepted as an immigrant even though he spoke no English, so at least someone in the system should have said this man is arriving, he speaks zero English, somebody there should help him.

Jill: Yeah, there should have been some sort of flag or something, I agree.

I just can’t believe that there aren’t lots of other immigrants that arrive all the time who cannot speak any English.

I’m sure it happens, so they need to find a better way to deal with these people.

Steve: Well, not only immigrants.

I mean theoretically the immigrants are supposed to be able to speak English before they can immigrate to Canada, but just ordinary travelers, tourists, they’re under no obligation to speak English.

Jill: Of course.

Steve: So that the procedures at the airport… Yes, undoubtedly, you know, in a way, even though there’s not much sympathy for the police officers, in a way, I feel sorry for them because… I mean, yeah, obviously the mother, the family of this man, are totally distraught, but I think the police officers are traumatized as well.

Jill: Oh, I’m sure they feel horrible. I’m sure they didn’t mean to kill him.

Steve: They didn’t go there with the purpose of killing this man.

They probably overreacted, they probably weren’t properly trained and the situation was exacerbated by the fact that there was no language communication.

It’s at the airport, it’s tense, is this guy a terrorist, who knows, I don’t know.

I don’t know what the policemen were told before they went there.

Jill: No, I don’t either.

Steve: We haven’t been told that.

What was the message given to the policemen?

Maybe they were told that he was a very dangerous man, I have no idea.

Anyway Jill, it’s a really, really, tragic story.

We don’t often have tragic things to talk about, but life does have its dark moments as well.

Jill: Hopefully this unfortunate situation will lead to some better protocol at the airport and these things can be avoided in the future.

Steve: Well and better procedures too with regard to policemen.

They should have had a medic handy if they were going to taser the man.

I think there are a lot of issues a lot of questions that need to be answered here.

Okay Jill, sad story, but there it is.

We will talk again.

Jill: Yes, okay; bye, bye.

Steve: Bye.

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