Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Vancouver Airport Authority also responsible but not accountable for Taser death of Robert Dziekanski

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday November 20, 2007

Who Polices YVR?


"This is how Robert felt for over nine hours at the airport: lost, confused, thirsty and hungry, and ignored by all."

- Family friend Jurek Baltakis

The RCMP has rightly been severely criticized for the Tasering of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish man seeking a new life in Canada and instead finding death in custody at Vancouver airport.

However wrong the actions of the RCMP were, they will be held accountable - in Parliament and by voters, who can remove the RCMP's political bosses in the next election.

But another organization responsible for Dziekanski's tragic death can't be held accountable at all - the Vancouver Airport Authority.

That's because the authority, or YVR, is a bizarrely structured body that does not report to either the federal or provincial governments and is ruled by a board of directors appointed in part by business groups and organizations with no responsibility to voters.

That total lack of accountability was clear when YVR president and CEO Larry Berg refused interviews for three weeks.

Yet Dziekanski would be alive today if someone at YVR had found a way to communicate with him, if they had answered his mother Zofia Cisowski's desperate pleas to find Robert in the secure baggage area or if staff had assisted him before RCMP arrived.

YVR's revenue comes from endless airport improvement fees of $5 per person for flights within B.C. and the Yukon and $15 outside of B.C.

That funding pays Berg between $380,000 and $625,000 depending on bonuses, while YVR chair Graham Clarke gets $115,000 a year plus $1,000 per board or committee meeting. Board member committee chairs earn $26,000 per year and non-chairs $20,000 plus meeting fees.

The YVR board has one nominee from each of the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia, the Law Society of B.C., the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C., Richmond city, Vancouver city and Metro Vancouver and two from the Canadian government. The board itself picks additional members.

That means no level of government is responsible. The board and individuals with absolutely no accountability to voters hold the majority of board seats.

The RCMP must be held accountable and an investigation must determine why Tasers are connected to 18 deaths in Canada.

But it's also critical to change the unaccountable structure at YVR so that those in charge have to answer for their decisions at an airport ordinary people pay for but have no say in.



Anonymous said...

they are responsible. There is a cultural problem at that airport. I never fly through there.The custom officers are scary and get off on threatening people. They should all be fired, the whole bunch of them, they are like animals, sadistic animals.

Anonymous said...

This is the reply I received from YVR in response to my concerns about neither an interpretter nor YVR paramedics helping out. It is not a satisfying response.

Paul Levy - Vice President, Airport Operations (p.levy@yvr.ca)

I read your email about the tragic death of Mr. Dziekanski at our airport. I saw Paul Pritchard's video of the incident for the first time on the evening of November 14. I know the whole airport community found it profoundly sad. We are all shocked that this happened at YVR and we are extremely concerned and sympathetic to the grief of Mr. Dziekanski's family. We are undertaking a thorough review of our policies and procedures. As well, all of the involved parties-the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and the Airport Authority-are cooperating with the Coroner's independent investigation. We believe this to be the best way of ensuring the public is provided with answers to the many questions that remain. We never want to see something like this happen again. We are committed to making changes to ensure the best service for everyone using the airport. We are also committed to communicating these changes publicly. Thank you for taking the time to provide your comments on this difficult and upsetting issue. I have reviewed them and I take them very seriously.

Paul Levy
Vice President, Airport Operations

G West said...


Have you seen Les Leyne's column in today's Times Colonist? In conjunction with anon 11:38 am's communication with Paul Levy there is an interesting scenario developing.

Not surprisingly Levy hasn't a word to say about the implications of what Leyne's written.

Is someone flying a trial balloon to see if there's some way to take the heat off YVR by transferring it to border services or someone (including the deceased) else?

This is getting more and more suspicious

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks to G West for the referral to Les Leyne's interesting and provocative column in today's Times-Colonist.

Leyne quotes a Polish man familiar with immigration issues who wonders if Robert Dziekanski was detained for some hours by Border Services because of his past conviction as a teenager for robbery. And that perhaps YVR officials were considering not allowing him into Canada.

Wow. This makes it far more explosive if true.

Find it at:


Anonymous said...

"But it's also critical to change the unaccountable structure at YVR so that those in charge have to answer for their decisions at an airport ordinary people pay for but have no say in."

Couldn't agree with you more. It's unfortunate that more isn't being written on the province's current move to make TransLink a similarly unelected and unaccountable board, also run by Board of Trade types. The bill to privitize TransLink, Bill 43, is currently being debated in the Leg, and there is precious little commentary about the implications of this legislation.

Think of the recent taser death at YVR, and imagine the recently armed TransLink cops doing something similar to a transit passenger. Who would ultimately be accountable? The transit cops will soon report to an unelected private board.

If you haven't written on this subject already, I'd like to see your next article discuss the implications of a newly privitized TransLink. It'll make the YVR governance structure seem almost benign in comparison.

Budd Campbell said...

The Les Leyne article is, in my view, at least as explosive as Paul Pritchard's video. There is no doubt that the agencies most responsible for causing Dziekanski's death are the Vancouver Airport Authority and Canada Border Services and Immigration. The RCMP have much to answer for, but these agencies systematically deranged the man, then told the cops to get onto him ASAP.

As for YVR being unaccountable, they are created by a federal statute, and while some directors may be selected by other parties the Govt of Canada still owns the property and controls the statutory framework. It remains ultimately responsible.

And as for the BC Gov'ts public enquiry, don't be unduly shocked if Canada Border Servicea and Immigration refuse to appear or testify, claiming that their status as federal agencies places them beyond the investigative powers of a provincial public enquiry. Ask a laywer if you think I am imagining things.

Anonymous said...

Now if the fellow had, in the first few minutes decided to clip his fingernails, the authoritites whould have been there in a flash.

I don't make light of this unnecesssary death. VVR is run by a weird bunch. Their proorities certainly arn't the prioroites of the paying customers.
Last year my sister, late 50's uniligual Canadian was passing through on her way home to California, could we come over from Victoria to have a quick chat and catch up on things as she would be there for four hours. We went over an she knew we were there. No matter whom we asked for information of her location we got nowhere. They wouldn't even bother checking to see if the plane had arrived. We knew it hjad as some passangers had arived at the arrival gate inside the building. On that day for some reason, the airport experts had totally isolated all US citizens passing through on linking AC flights. After 30 or so years in aviation I thought I knew my way around VVR. Silly me. Requests to Pa her were ignored.

No wonder a fellow who couldn't speak english was wandering around the place for about ten hours. His mother was in the building doing just as we had done, trying to contact a arriving customer. That would upset anyone.

I understand the airport firemen are now asking why nobody called them as first line providers to assist when the four brutes had finally tazered abd managed to make the guy stop breathing. wonder how many days before they are back doing thier thing" serving and protecting"

Neale Adams said...

I'm surprised it's taken so long for the unaccountable YVR to be involved in a major screw-up. But I knew this would happen when the feds (forgotten whether it was Mulroney or Chretien's goverment) gave over the airport to a business group. All they care about really is increasing traffic and business.
And now the provincial Liberals are about to give over Translink to a similar "expert" group, read business group, which will fashion roads and highways (and maybe a bit of public transit) in a way to suit the economy first - way ahead of the environment or people's needs. Why do we let business types run so much of our society? Business has legitimate needs, but there are other needs...

Anonymous said...

VAA, Customs, Canada Immigration, RCMP - who else? As a landed immigrant I can tell you those hours spent waiting to be 'processed' are hugely stressful! Imagine, I plead, imagine if you can the following:
* You have prepared for days and nights to pack and leave the land of your birth and the 'known' - huge stress!
* You say farewell to friends and maybe lovd ones for who knows how long - maybe for the rest of their or your life!
* You have travelled for more than half a day in cramped conditions, perhaps longer if you could not get a direct flight. You are exhausted but spurred on by adrenalin, excitement and anxiety - huge stress!
* You have collected your luggage, hoping above anything that nothing was re-directed in transit (what happens when that occurs is worthy of another front page news story)
* You line up and WAIT with many many other immigrants most of whom simply cannot speak English or French and the volunteers cannot assist everyone. Additional stress!
* You make all sorts of declarations about your family chatels with you or to follow some time later (mostly to protect the importers, local producers and retailers against you possibly undermining their market share, but also to ensure you dont bring something here that may poison the environment in some way)- try and do that unprepared! Huge stress and time consuming.
* You discover, discover, discover and are invariably confused by all sorts of new terminology, signage, regulations etc. North America is not the same as Europe
* You encounter many politically correct (superficially polite) but ice cold Canadians but most avoid assisting.
NOW ADD the facts as you know them - language and some probelm with his papers and he is isolated / caged / ignored / abandoned. The man was a victim before he was held by the agencies. Then in march the 4geniusses (who didnt have the combined strength to ask him to turn around, handcuff him) and 30 seconds later decide he needs a painful incentive to calm down - but end up putting him out of his misery!

I have travelled through YVR more time than I like to recall. It is better than most at making the routine work well. The extraordinary is beyond their not for profit budget and, in the case of the govt agencies, beyond tax revenues. The immigration process from application to settling is broken - has been for years - now its fatally broken for Robert!.

Anonymous said...

VAA - good start but $1.3 mio is woefully inadequate for the facilities, systems and people needed to handle immigrants and international visitors. But thats the 07 budget what will you have in 08? Berg, Levy & Molloy need to get special considerations from that board of theirs - and that board clearly needs to unanimously show that they too accept accountability.
Berg, Levy and Molloy need to fix and improve on many other things in the operations supply chain 'for people, luggage, goods AND information'. Will those now suffer with a re-allocation of budget to reduce the heat of the media and public opinion?
There is an information desk very near the public waiting area at international arrivals that simply doesnt provide information. One has to ascend a floor to get attempt to get anything. That and the 'very low resolution poor quality TV monitors & cameras showing folks just about to exit are a joke. More waiting area, more cameras at different stages, more monitors, the info system, phones & computers for arrived but delayed / detained immigrants and visitors are just the start. Integration with airlines systems regarding lost luggage to make images available of found or late arrival luggage via internet - keep going Berg yours is a job that is a long way from being done.

BTW - you also need some internal operations process that advises maintenance folks that washrooms are out of paper or have some water issue - a recent long wait at international arrivals was made a bit more interesting by timing how long it took to service the washroom! I didt find out I left after 2 hours.