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Spartacist Canada No. 155

Winter 2007/2008

Outrage Over Cop Taser Killing in Vancouver

VANCOUVER—On October 14, Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski was killed by the RCMP at Vancouver International Airport. A month later, millions saw the gut-wrenching ten-minute video taken by another traveler, Paul Pritchard, which showed unambiguously that this was a cold-blooded execution. After a grueling 20-hour journey from Poland, Dziekanski, who spoke no English, spent ten hours in the airport waiting for his mother who was, unknown to him, only a few feet away in the public waiting area. The video shows a distressed and obviously harmless man confronted by four RCMP officers who within 25 seconds tasered him with 50,000 volts at close range at least twice. Seconds later Dziekanski is writhing on the ground, screaming in agony as the cops crush him with their knees on his neck. Then he is dead.

Dziekanski’s death sparked outrage across the country and internationally, and in B.C. it has become a focal point for a wave of animosity against the cops. In the days after Pritchard’s video first aired, outraged people berated the RCMP at the airport and the four cops were reassigned “for the officers’ own safety.” Memorials were held in several cities and 1,000 people rallied on November 24 in Vancouver.

In the last four years police have killed at least ten people in B.C. Some were shot, some were tasered, and in several cases the cover-ups unraveled enough to reveal a glimpse of the daily reality of police violence. In 2005 in Houston, B.C., a young mill worker, Ian Bush, was arrested for the “crime” of holding a beer outside a hockey game. Twenty minutes later he was dead, shot in the back of the head. It was the persistence of Bush’s bereaved mother that made this brutal police crime a touchstone for anger and distrust of the cops. For two years the RCMP lied, covered up and protected the killer cop who has, predictably, now been exonerated by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP—the same body now charged by the federal government with reviewing the use of tasers.

The cops, along with the prisons, courts and military, make up the core of the capitalist state, an instrument of organized violence used to maintain the rule of the capitalists against the working class. When the police kill and brutalize immigrants and Natives, repress leftists, attack picket lines or student protesters, this flows directly from the fact that they serve but one master, the capitalist class. Acting as judge, jury and executioner, their job is to protect the profit system that creates unemployment, poverty and oppression.

These political facts are obscured by the fiction that the state is neutral and serves everyone in society equally. This is all the more the case in a country like Canada where the naked rule of capital is masked by the trappings of parliamentary democracy. The cops cannot be made to serve the interests of the oppressed and the state cannot be reformed. It must be overthrown by the working class in a socialist revolution.

The killing of Dziekanski was unusual only in that it was filmed, making crystal clear to all that just about everything the cops said about it was a brazen lie. For a month the cops suppressed the video, holding on to Pritchard’s camera until he hired a lawyer and threatened legal action. Underscoring that they are a law unto themselves, the cops responded to the public outcry by tasering and killing two more people. In Halifax on November 22, a mentally ill man, Howard Hyde, was tasered and died in police custody. In Chilliwack, B.C., a day later, Robert Knipstrom died after being tasered, pepper sprayed and beaten.

Lies, More Lies and Public Inquiries

The Globe and Mail (16 November) editorialized that Dziekanski’s death at the hands of the cops would be seen “as the summary execution of an innocent man for the crime of being disoriented, for not understanding, for being a stranger.” The Globe’s recent exposures of RCMP misdeeds are driven by a crass aim of damage control for a ruling class worried about the growing public mistrust of the police.

That is the sole purpose of the B.C. Liberal government’s public inquiry into Dziekanski’s death and the Harper Tories’ review of taser use: to refurbish the image of the racist, capitalist state. In our article on the Ipperwash inquiry into the racist 1995 Ontario Provincial Police killing of Native activist Dudley George (SC No. 146, Fall 2005) we wrote:

“The capitalist rulers have a time-honoured strategy for dealing with public outrage. First, they lie through their golden teeth. Second, when anger persists, they stall. Then, if things still don’t settle down, they ‘reluctantly’ hold an ‘independent’ public inquiry, staffed by judges, professors, priests or other loyal representatives of the ruling class, and perhaps recommending token punishment for someone involved. The more thorough the investigation appears, the better it serves its ideological purpose: to prove that the system works, that the state is accountable to the ‘will of the people,’ and that justice has been served.”

Grotesquely, while calling for a “temporary moratorium” on taser use, B.C. NDP leader Carole James urges “proper training” so the cops can use tasers “in the protection of themselves and the public” (November 16 statement). It was the B.C. NDP government that introduced tasers in the province in 1999. Then attorney-general Ujjal Dosanjh (now a federal Liberal) called the taser an “effective alternative to lethal force” (Province, 18 November). And this was after a string of taser-related deaths in the U.S. In power, the NDP has not hesitated to unleash the full force of state repression as they did in 1995 in launching one of the largest RCMP operations in history against Native protesters at Gustafsen Lake.

Canadian Press reported that in 2002-2005 there were 230 tasering “events” in B.C., by far the highest incidence of any province. Unsurprisingly, a large number of the victims were Native people. Humiliation and intimidation by the cops is a daily reality for Natives and others in Vancouver’s destitute, crumbling Downtown Eastside. Emblematic of this was the death of Frank Paul. Nine years ago police tossed this Native man like so much garbage into a Downtown Eastside alley where he died of hypothermia. Today his death, too, is the subject of what will certainly be a whitewash government inquiry.

On every level, Robert Dziekanski’s fate stands as an indictment of the ruinous, violent capitalist system. The Solidarność capitalist counterrevolution in Poland destroyed the bureaucratically deformed workers state in 1989, bringing mass unemployment and poverty. Dziekanski and his mother, Zofia Cisowski, from the devastated mining region of Silesia, were part of a mass exodus of some two million Poles who have emigrated in recent years in search of jobs and better lives. She had been a carpenter, while he had worked in construction. Whether in Canada or in now-capitalist Poland, bourgeois rule means untold misery.

In recent years in B.C. there have been numerous strikes, as workers fight back against the attacks of the bosses and attempt to get a piece of the vast profits that the capitalists are raking in during the present Olympics-fuelled boom. The social power of the multiethnic working class needs to be mobilized in struggle on behalf of all the many victims of capitalist oppression. The NDP social democrats, along with the trade-union misleaders, are obstacles to such struggle, standing in defense of the capitalist system.

Similarly, the NDP-loyal left acts to foster deadly illusions in the capitalist state. In a November 21 statement, the Communist Party of Canada added its voice to the pleas for inquiries and moratoriums on tasers, declaring that it “supports these demands, as part of a wider range of measures to establish full civilian oversight and control of police forces.” The idea that the police can be “controlled” by “civilian oversight” under capitalism is a reformist lie, as shown by the entire history of working-class struggles. We say: Cops, prison and border guards and private security guards have no place in the unions.

The bourgeoisie wants to dissolve the anger over the cop murder of Robert Dziekanski into the hot air of a public inquiry. What is needed is the formation of a revolutionary vanguard party that lays bare the source of police violence in the capitalist system, and fights to sweep way the entire machinery of bourgeois state repression in a socialist revolution.


Spartacist Canada No. 155

SC 155

Winter 2007/2008


Immigrants, Minorities: Key to Workers Struggle

For a Multiethnic Revolutionary Workers Party!


Marxism, the Capitalist State and the Police

(quote of the issue)


Outrage Over Cop Taser Killing in Vancouver


Mass Arrests in Montreal

Defend Quebec Student Protesters!

(Young Spartacus pages)


Mumia Is Innocent!

Free Him Now!

Sinister Book Recycles Frame-Up Lies


New ICL Bulletin

The Logan Dossier


TL/LT Eleventh National Conference:

Fighting for a Revolutionary Perspective in a Reactionary Period


Down With Imperialist Sanctions!

U.S. Hands Off Iran!