Saturday, November 24, 2007

Death of an Immigrant: The Tragic Death of Robert Dziekanski - By Shane Christensen

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I am a very patriotic Canadian, and have been so my entire life. From my earliest childhood memories, I always felt a deep sense of pride living in this country that is the envy of most of the world.

My affection for this nation stems predominantly from what Canada represents and embodies; certain fundamental principles that, coincidentally, make up my own personal moral code. We are perceived globally as being a peaceful, civilized, decent, caring, and compassionate country. We have created a society that strives for national equity and fairness, a society regarded as a model for the rest of the world. And that is why so much of the world moves to Canada - for a chance at a better life.

But in reality, our country and its citizens are clearly not perfect. We do have stains in our history, just as every other nation or civilization has. And our institutions, which strive to live up to our Canadian expectations, can sometimes find themselves in predicaments that are both tragic and shameful.

Robert Dziekanski came to Canada to join his mother in the hopes of a better life in Kamloops, and instead died a horrible and unnecessary death due to fundamental flaws in a number of our institutions and their processes. We’re all aware of how the tragedy unfolded thanks to the video that is being shown here and around the world, sparking outrage and shock that this would happen in a country like Canada.

As a Canadian, I am shocked, saddened, and ashamed that this incident was allowed to unfold the way it did, ultimately playing out as a horror show of mistakes that cost an innocent man his life. We all have the right to demand that processes change to ensure that this never happens to anyone, ever again.

All police services in Canada (and elsewhere) will have to re-evaluate their use of a device (the taser) that has proven itself to be lethal, even if rarely. It is no secret that police forces universally find the taser a very useful tool in dealing with non-compliant or threatening individuals, and the use of tasers are governed by law (which consider force options and level of risk to officers and others).

I will not rush to judgment as to whether the officers involved in this incident acted appropriately, as I am not qualified to do so. But as a Canadian, I am concerned when our principles of care and compassion seem to go by the wayside and are replaced by haste and a willingness to confront a clearly agitated and vulnerable man, then engaging in a physical altercation.

I was saddened and deeply moved when I attended the funeral of a fine and decent young mountie who was recently killed in a senseless act of violence in Nunavut. I am experiencing the same emotions (along with shame) because so many things went terribly wrong in Vancouver, resulting in the harrowing death of a man who died unnecessarily. And with both cases, it is my sincerest hope that it never happens again.

Because events such as these are not the kinds of things I want happening in my Canada…or happening in any country in the world.

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