VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - An inquiry into the death of a Polish immigrant at the hands of Canadian police fell into disarray on Friday when the government admitted it failed to disclose potentially damaging evidence.
Inquiry head Thomas Braidwood, a retired judge, called the failed disclosure “appalling” and ordered the inquiry put on hold until September 22, so that witnesses can be recalled. Lawyers had been scheduled to begin closing arguments on Friday.
A tearful government lawyer said she had found a Royal Canadian Mounted Police e-mail that appears to contradict statements made by RCMP officers about the night Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport in 2007.
The four officers had testified they never discussed using a Taser stun gun on Dziekanski before confronting him, but the e-mail from the RCMP’s internal investigation in 2007 indicated that use of the weapon was planned in advance.
Attorney Helen Roberts said she did not receive a copy of the e-mail until April, which was after the officers had already started to testify, and failed to read the message until this week.
A lawyer for one of the officers said the e-mail was based on wrong information.
Dziekanski, who was in the process of immigrating to Canada, where his mother lives, died after he was repeatedly jolted by a police stun gun, although the exact cause of his death has never been determined.
An amateur video of the incident received international publicity and raised controversy in Canada over police use of the electronic weapons, which are intended to disable victims and to be a safer alternative to firearms.
The controversy prompted the province of British Columbia to order the inquiry.
Police, who were called to a airport following a report of a drunk and disruptive man, initially said Dziekanski was stunned twice and had to be wrestled to the ground.
Evidence presented at the inquiry showed he was actually jolted five times, with some jolts coming after he fell to the ground in pain.
Braidwood is expected to issue reports about the conduct of the police and about the general safety of the weapons made by TASER International.
Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway