hungry, thirsty, confused – and dead

last sunday, a man was killed at the vancouver airport. robert dziekanski died after he was tasered by police at vancouver international airport. police say he was agitated, screaming, shaking and throwing things. he had been at the airport for 10 hours.

i have no idea what exactly happened in this situation but it is reminiscent of other situations where an agitated individual who poses no real threat has been killed by police (like the death of paul boyd in august). in many of these cases, these people turn out to be people with a mental illness (and again, i do not know at all whether that was true for mr. dziekanski; i’m just taking this tragic event as an example for what i believe to be caused by underlying problems).

one thing that is often overlooked in understanding people with mental illness who behave in ways that seem threatening to bystanders is that mental health problems can be severely exacerbated by the kinds of stressors that others find unpleasant but can cope with.

a decrease in blood sugar levels is one. thirst is another (“he must have been thirsty,” said mr. dziekanski’s mother). add to that lack of sleep and the general stress that comes with a transatlantic flight – plus being in a foreign country for the first time and not speaking the language – and we already have a volatile cocktail that stretches the endurance of any healthy person.

if this cocktail is mixed with, say, the manic phase of bipolar disorder or acute symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, we have a recipe for disaster.

one of the reasons is that the physical manifestations of stressors such as low blood sugar, an interruption of the cicadian rhythm, and lack of sleep can be similar to the bodily-felt experience of mental illness. for example, the slightly numb feeling in the extremities that can come with low blood sugar is not dissimilar to the physical manifestation of dissociation that can accompany depression.

since the person may already be slightly disoriented because of the stress they are under, it can be hard for them to distinguish – on both conscious and below conscious levels – what is going on. just like the physical mechanics of a smile can produce feelings of happiness, any physical sensation that feels like a symptom of a mental health condition can trigger that condition to come to the surface.

28 thoughts on “hungry, thirsty, confused – and dead

  1. Richard Tylman


    The Hon. Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety, Ottawa,

    The Hon. Wally Oppal, Attorney General of B.C., Victoria

    Commissioner of RCMP William J.S. Elliott, Ottawa

    The Hon. Stephane Dion, Leader of Opposition, Ottawa

    We are deeply moved by the recent tragedy of Mr. Robert Dziekanski, who was killed by our Police force at the Vancouver International Airport on 14 October, 2007.

    The senseless act of this unintended, yet sadly possible as result , killing is of gross misuse and availability of the deadly Taser gun. Since the introduction of this gun to our Police forces (federal, provincial and municipal) there were numerous cases of tragic consequences. There were deaths. Each one of them avoidable and a direct result of the use of this device. It is the mistaken belief of our officers that Taser gun is not a deadly weapon (unlike traditional firearms) and therefore its use is not as strictly limited. Many serious studies have shown that it is indeed a very deadly weapon. In the right circumstances as deadly as any gun. Since it is beyond the knowledge of any officer whether such conditions are present – than in all cases it should be treated as a real possibility.

    Until a full and in-depth review of the uses, practicality and dangers of Taser guns is undertaken at the federal level, we demand that there should be a full moratorium on the use of these devices.

    The incomprehensible tragedy of Mr. Dziekanski, who came to Canada to begin a new life and found death on its threshold is beyond any words. A person, who lands at our airport after many hours of delayed flights, is tired and doesn’t speak English, and as a result of it starts acts irrationally, even dangerously – ends up being killed. As his mother awaits him only meters away. A person, who undoubtedly is in some sort of emotional distress (perhaps medical) is being confronted by a number of highly trained Police officers. Instead of being restrained, they choose to use the Taser gun. Because it is there, because it is not being treated as a deadly weapon. Shortly after that – Mr. Robert Dziekanski life ends.

    As citizens of our country, we strongly object to this device being use by those whom we trust to protect us. One day, anyone of us can find ourselves in a troubled situation. Not even as a result of criminal activity but by any other unforeseen circumstances; mental disorder, civil or political protest, psychological or physical distress. None of us would want to risk being shot by Taser gun and hope that maybe this time it want be lethal. The stakes are absolutely too high for a possibility of an error. It is clear to us that this death (as others before it) would not have happened if the Officers present at the scene did not have access to the device.

    We respectfully request that You inform us of your action and results in this most important matter.

    Bogumil Pacak-Gamalski

    (Send your signature in support of the above letter to )

  2. Dave McCullough

    It’s a good thing the video came out otherwise this would all be swept under the rug. If four Polish imigrants tasered then asphixiated an RCMP there would be hell to pay!
    The bullies should be charged with murder and go to trial like anyone else in this country. Bouncers in night clubs act more professional.


  3. Albertarocks

    It’s high time all cops in Canada get tazered in the face three or four times in training. What happened to all the tough cops that used to be in service 40 years ago? All we have now is great big cowardly bullies as cops these days. Shame on ALL of them. Those cops in Vancouver were no braver than a little kid who shot a gopher, and when it didn’t die immediately, they jumped back in horror. Shame on all of them, and shame on the RCMP. Am I furious? You bet I am.

  4. isabella mori

    it’s a very sad story; indeed, a nightmare. what’s interesting – and shocking – is that when i first wrote this, i was still hoping that there might be an explanation for what happened. that maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looked. now with the videos out it was worse than it looked a few weeks ago.

    what is it that makes police act that way? and what can be done to prevent this from happening again?

    this was not a tragic error. this is a systemic problem. albertarocks and dave, your comparisons to little kids and gophers are sadly appropriate.

  5. Bogumil Pacak-Gamalski

    It has become an international scandal and a big black spot on Canada’s reputation. WE should demand an absolute moratotium on the use of this barbaric device. If you used it on animals it would be punishable by law. Yet law officers (sic) are using it on humans.

  6. Albertarocks

    Excellent point Bogumil.

    If I owned a taser gun and shot a RCMP officer’s dog with it, I’d spend 100 years in prison. Regardless of the reason I shot it with this barbaric ‘tool of cowards’, I’d still spend time in jail. But that same cowardly RCMP officer, would shoot my brother with the same weapon, for less reason, or indeed for no reason at all. He’d kill my brother, and yet he’d get off scot free. As far as I’m concerned, this was a clear case of manslaughter, and every cop involved in this situation should spend the rest of their lives in prison. Not just the shooter, but all the other cops who did nothing, absolutely nothing to stop this murder. It’s murder, and that’s all there is to it.

    Where are the old cops who were the true tough cops, who displayed some compassion and common sense? Those cops were respected many years ago, and they deserved respect. But not these monsters we see in cop costumes these days.

  7. Kay P.

    I believe that if someone is acting irrationally and violently, particularly in an airport, toward employees and police officers – they are asking for trouble. This man was out of control and the police needed him subdued.

    The way the world is regarding security, again – particularly in an airport, I am not surprised that the officers felt it necessary for safety, theirs and ours, to get this situation resolved.

    This isn’t manslaughter by any stretch. My hope is that the police stand behind their colleagues and tell the world “NO MORE!!” We cannot let people get away with bad behaviour and disrespect. The man was scary and acting nuts!! Get him out of the airport!! I don’t feel sorry for him. He cannot act like that in an AIRPORT – or really anywhere. Send a message to people who think that they can spit in the face of our Law Enforcers and the people around.

    Take a look from the side that you are in an international airport and someone is walking around sweating and talking in a foreign language to himself and being aggressive with employees there. How would you feel? Would you think: “Poor guy – he’s lost his grandmother … “? OR would you think: “GET THIS NUT JOB OUT OF HERE RIGHT AWAY BEFORE HE COMPLETELY LOSES IT!! I’M SCARED OF HIM AND I’M FRIGHTENED FOR THE SAFETY OF MY FAMILY!!” I’d be the one that was scared and hoping that the police got him out before someone innocent got hurt.

  8. isabella mori

    and i, were i to encounter such a man who is, as you say, acting nuts, walking around sweating, talking in a foreign language to himself – i guess i WOULD think, “poor guy.”

    i have on many occasions been around people who acted strangely. or seemingly strangely. each time i have had the chance to find out what was going on, i found that they had a reason for behaving the way they did.

    i’m not saying we should condone uncivil behavior. but killing someone is surely more uncivil than acting strangely.

    not that the police killed him on purpose. however, the evidence before us so far seems to indicate they were tragically negligent and – incompetent.

  9. Albertarocks


    You are nothing more than the typical moron who listens to the media too much.

    There was a day, when any one single cop in Canada would have tackled this guy and taken him to the ground and subdued him, harmlessly.

    So you think it’s OK to kill the guy just because he’s sweating and you don’t understand his language?

    It’s people like you who are not welcome in Canada. If you are a Canadian, I am ashamed of you.

  10. isabella mori

    i won’t have too much time in the next two days to monitor this.

    however: please, no name calling. if anyone disagrees with a poster, please do so politely.

    we’re against police brutality. brutality always arises out of lack of respect.

    let’s respect each other here.

    thank you.

  11. Scott Sheldrake

    *** NEWSFLASH!! *** : Cops are assholes on power-trips. Duh we all know this already, but now someone caught it on tape.

    Also, there’s nothing more annoying than stupid bloggers who think they are SOOOO intelligent by saying things like “physical manifestations of stressors”.

    wtf, physical manifestations of stressors?? are you kidding me?? like you are SOOOOO smart to use such big words.

    The bottom line here is : Cops are assholes, sweaty lunatics in airports are cop magnets, end of story. Now lets move on to some Paris Hilton news shall we?

  12. Dave

    Hello Kay P
    I can’t see how you condone what the four goons did to the poor guy at the airport. It wasn’t the taser that killed him it was the one cop kneeling on his neck and the other kneeling on his back that caused the asphixiation. If you actually took time to pay attention to the video there was nothing more than a misdemeaner offence, throwing a table, that he commited. However being locked up behind the holding area, even if it was accidental, for three hours is unlawfull confinment which is a felloney in Canada. He would have been fully within his rights to bust out of there.
    You talk about if you were there you would have been concerned for the safety of your family well if he was a member of my family the goons would have to worry about their safety!

  13. Seth

    Obviously no one here is a police officer, much less a RCMP officer as I am. You speak so much about something you understand so little. The TASER was tried, proven, and tested for many years before it was issued to any police agency in Canada. Not one death following a TASER incident has been proven to be as a result of the TASER but was a result of some underlying(and unknown)medical condition.

    That being said, RCMP go through extensive TASER training before being allowed to carry the weapon. Not to mention they are themselves TASER’d; as I was(twice). Aside from that we are also required to re-qualify with the TASER on a yearly basis, or we lose the privilege of carrying it.

    Lastly, the maniac Robert Dziekanski demonstrated aggressive, combative, and completely inappropriate behavior towards not only the police but the general public. Perhaps you didn’t notice, but he was an exceptionally big man and obviously had some kind of emotional/mental issue. Any man such as this is a danger to the public and police. The members involved did what they had to(and were justified to), to protect the public from harm. Yes they were 4 to 1, they could have jumped on him, twisted his arms behind his back and caused but mere broken bones, but they chose to use a less-than-lethal weapon to regain control of a situation which was quickly becoming out-of-control. They didn’t decide to do so with intention to kill him, but only to control him without injury to the public, themselves, or Dziekanski.

    If the TASER hadn’t been used and the members used physical force as I stated before, then the RCMP would be facing a million-dollar lawsuit and still be under fire.

    The public is always quick to point a finger and is easily influenced by the media. If at all possible open your mind to see both sides and have a little respect for those that put their life on the line for you each day.

  14. Albertarocks

    Dziekansky was no maniac. What the hell are you talking about Mr. RCMP man?

    I don’t believe you are a RCMP officer. Otherwise, you’d have a lot more guts than you display here.

    I’m 58 years of age and as a result, I’ve seen a lot more RCMP officers than you even know. They used to be nice gentlemen, who could take a big 220 pounder to the ground without too much problem. So for you to try to try to legitimize the murder of a man who is mixed up, just proves what a bunch of cowards you have all become.

    Don’t stand in front of me and try to legitimize that kind of a murder. You don’t have a leg to stand on, in my world. When I was a kid, RCMP officers were tough men, who were well respected. And they surely didn’t need pissy toys like Tasers. You give a kid a beebee gun and he wants to shoot smething with it. Same with RCMP and their toys.

    Don’t you dare stand before me and try to justify a murder like that. You have no, absolutely NO case.

  15. Albertarocks

    And further, in the past, RCMP officers who I were so kind to me when I was 6 years old, weren’t afraid of ‘combative’ people. RCMP didn’t kill them back in those days. RCMP officers used their skills and took tough guys to the ground and handcuffed them. Plain and simple.

    50 years ago, I even went to an RCMP detachment in Southern Alberta when I was about 6 just to talk with the cops. I actually saw an officer empty his gun, a six shooter, and he emptied his cylinder of bullets onto the counter and turned them in to his comander. He was off duty, and then he walked with me for a few blocks as I went home. He was a great big guy, and a good guy. Those were the good RCMP guys.

    But the behaviour of these officers, and obviously you condone it, was to kill the man rather than to suffer the possibility of taking a punch. Come on, Seth, where are your balls? If you don’t have the balls to get into a street fight, why are you a cop? Just to have the pleasure of shooting someone, or to do an honourable job? No wonder firemen are loved, while cops are not. Believe me, if you’d ever met an RCMP officer from 1960 or so, you’d kneel before him, or he’d make you kneel before him.

    Please get your priorities in line. Your job is not to kill people, but to capture them when (and only when), they are out of line. Your job is not to kill people.

    Yes, I’m pissed off, and I’m getting only more pissed off at reading shit from people like you who try to justify police murders.

  16. chance

    For seth the cop I’d like to say that your comment,”have a little respect for those that put their life on the line for you each day”, is sadly self rightous. I usually never wright in these blog chats, but your comment makes me sick. If you really are a cop then you know better than anyone that working for the RCMP is one of the safest jobs in Canada. If your looking for danger, fish, mine or log.
    But no, all you want is peoples respect, isn’t that right hero. Your a fucking hypocrite if you claim to serve and protect and at the same time defend the actions of thoughs four pigs in Van. Police have to earn my respect, just like anyone else. And thoughs currupt fucking pigs should have to serve thier time, like anyone else.

  17. Albertarocks

    And I’ll tell you something else Seth. That big RCMP officer who walked me home back in 1955 or so, didn’t touch me. He didn’t touch my hand, or my shoulder… nothing. He just walked me home, walking beside me. He waited to see that I got into my home safely, all while he was off duty. He didn’t need to do that. But he just did it out of honour. That’s a man of honor. Just like my father was. Those were good men.

    How honorable is that? VERY HONORABLE!

    If any of those RCMP officers from back in 1958 or so, had ever seen a man who was distressed and sweating like poor Mr. Dziekansi, they certainly would not have shot the guy. They figure out how to rush into his world and take him down. I’m old enough to have seen the RCMP work fast, effectivly, and with no harm to the combatant. Those were the the pro’s. Shoot a person? No freakin’ way.

    No reason to taser a person. There will never be any reason in this world to taser a person unless he’s pointing a loaded gun at someone. Period! If you think you should taser him when he’s not brandishing a weapon… that just tells me that you’re a coward. If he’s not brandishing a weapon, wade into the fight. Grow some balls.

    Neither the cops, nor my father would have ever shot that man with a gun, nor with a taser toy. The RCMP in those days of honor, or even my own father would have just have taken that guy down to the ground and tied him up. But shoot him with something? Jesus Christ where does that justification come from?

    So I don’t want to hear about you trying to justify your taser toys, when your balls are the size of raisins. OK?

  18. isabella mori

    ok, you guys are all making interesting points, and i’m going to leave this here for now.

    in a few days i’m going to have a new theme up here and then i’ll make it ABUNDANTLY clear what happens to comments that are impolite.

    albertarocks, i hear your frustration and i think i know exactly what you mean by cops who have balls. i’ve been around the block a few times myself, lived in a few different countries and most of all have worked among people where a situation like the one we’re talking about happens at least once a week. i KNOW there are many ways of dealing with these situations and none of them involves a taser, a gun, or even a stick.

    however, please, and that goes for everyone here (don’t mean to single you out for this one, albertarocks):

    no name calling. i mean it.

    i’ll say it again: it’s all about RESPECT.

    if you want respect, for yourself or someone else, show respect. be a man. walk your talk.

  19. Albertarocks

    Ok Isabella. You’ll never hear from me again on any of your topics. I’m not going to back off one inch from my stance about this one though. Don’t single me out. Or go ahead and single me out, I could give a damn. But about this topic, I will not back up one inch.

    If I came across as angry or frustrated…… good. It’s been nice knowing you.

  20. Albertarocks

    I’ve not said any swear words on this blogsite, nor any insults, other than towards cowardly police. So Isabella, your idea of censorship is truly twisted. If you want to keep intelligent people posting on your blogsite, get intelligent yourself. OK? OK? Jesus Christ, who do you think you are to try to keep intelligent people like myself from speaking from the heart?

    If you put up a post as dynamic as this one, expect some ruffled feathers. Jesus, you ticked me off. And NO, I don’t care to ever post on any of your further topics. I will not be censored, especially when I don’t swear.

  21. isabella mori

    hey albertarocks –

    i’m sorry you didn’t notice that i agreed with you on more than one issue – or maybe you noticed it but you didn’t act like it.

    i don’t have the slightest problem with people reacting passionately and expressing their opinion, however far out. but i don’t like disrespect.

    this is what you said to kay p: “you are nothing more than the typical moron who listens to the media too much.”

    calling someone a moron is namecalling. telling someone that they’re not welcome in canada (as you also did) is perhaps not namecalling but extremely impolite, to put it mildly. telling someone that you don’t believe what they say they are is disrespectful.

    now it so happens that i don’t agree with kay p’s stance. yours is much closer to how i think on the matter. but that doesn’t mean that i have to act disrespectfully.

    asking people to be civilized and to respect each other is not censoring. it’s setting a standard.

  22. chance

    I like your style Isabella. I was hoping to have gotten a response from Seth but I think reading what you wrote was more gradifying. When I reread my comment I can barely see through the bitterness of it. Maybe Seth is one of the good cops who I’ve never had the good fortune to meet. I’m not usually so bitter, but when I saw that video I got so angry. The guy is dead. He should be in Kamloops but he’s dead. I guess all I wanted was for Seth to realize that people aren’t out to get the police. People and criminals in particular go out there way to avoid cops in Canada, I don’t think that is right. Being a cop truly isn’t dangerous relatively speaking, but it will continue to become more dangerous if police keep making enemies. Be peace officers, don’t use fear as a way to control the public. Listen to the public, and if they don’t speak English… Find a translator.

  23. Bogumil Pacak-Gamalski

    Thank you all very much for you support or different points of view. To have a public discours on this sad and important issue is the best way to handle it.
    So far, due to the public outcry and pressure, the Governments have agrred to: federal level – 3 internal inquirries and an official words of sympathy to Mrs Cisowska (mother of R. Dziekanski) and to Polish government,
    provincial level: New Fundland place a full moratorium on the use of Taser guns by its Police force, BC has announced forming a full Public Inquiry into this matter and offer an offcial apology to Mrs. Cisowska. Thank you all and I wish you all the best, Bogumil Pacak-Gamalski

  24. isabella mori

    thanks for the info, bogumil.

    chance, thank you so much for your reply. everyone can get a bit out of hand in the throes of emotion, that’s only human. and for many people, getting angry over such a tragedy is probably born out of compassion. thank you for looking at this again in a gentler light, chance.

  25. Tonja

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