Dziekanski of Poland brutally killed by Canadian airport security
Inquiry reveals more of Dziekanski's life in Poland
Updated Sun. Apr. 5 2009 3:45 PM ET
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER -- If most Canadians remember Robert Dziekanski as the panicked, out-of-control figure who died in RCMP hands at Vancouver's airport, Wojciech Dibon might tell them about the Dziekanski who acted as a father to him, taking him camping and teaching him about geography.
But Dibon wasn't able to tell the inquiry into Dziekanski's death about the man he knew.
Dibon, the son of a woman Dziekanski was living with, was 17 when he died and he remains so distraught over the man's death that he was unable to testify at the inquiry sorting out what happened at the airport early on Oct. 14, 2007.
"He and Mr. Dziekanski were very close," says Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother.
"This young man didn't have a father figure, Mr. Dziekanski took him camping, taught him the skills of manhood, spent time with him."
Dibon was one of the last people Dziekanski saw before he made his fateful trip to Canada, coming along for the two-hour ride to the airport on Oct. 13, 2007.
Upon arriving in Vancouver more than 20 hours later, Dziekanski spent hours lost in the airport, unable to connect with his mother who was frantically searching for him in another area of the facility.
RCMP were called after Dziekanski, sweating and exhausted, started throwing furniture in the international terminal. Within seconds of arriving, the four officers stunned the man several times with a Taser, and Dziekanski died on the airport floor in the minutes that followed.
The amateur video of Dziekanski's chilling screams and his encounter with police will be the epitaph left for most Canadians, but his friends and neighbours recall a different man, kind and friendly but also with his own share of flaws, eager to start a new life.
Dibon was hospitalized shortly after Dziekanski's death.
"He's had a hard time dealing with that," says Kosteckyj.
Dibon's absence, along with the inquiry testimony last week of others who knew Dziekanski in Gliwice, Poland, adds depth to the man Dziekanski's supporters have angrily accused government and police lawyers of trying to vilify.
He loved geography and read many books about the country that was to be his new home, the inquiry heard.
He played chess and gardened.
He may have had some trouble with the law as a teenager. He smoked and drank.
He was terrified of flying.
"Like a normal person," says Iwona Kosowska, offering a simple explanation when asked to describe her former neighbour.
"He was a very, very good man."
Dziekanski was born in the town of Pieszyce in southern Poland and later moved with his mother to Gliwice, a small industrial city not far from the borders with Slokavia and Czech Republic.
He lived in the same apartment with his mother, Zofia Cisowski, for much of his life, until she moved in 1999 to Kamloops, B.C., where she found work as a janitor.
After Cisowski left, Dziekanski lived with Dibon's mother, Elzbieta, although it's still not clear whether they were romantically involved, and if so for how long.
While he was trained to typeset in a print shop, by the time he left for Canada he was mostly doing odd jobs, heavy labour or handy work. Without a full-time job or much money, his mother would send home cash from B.C.
He planned to learn English when he arrived and find a job, possibly working with his mother.
And he also wanted to travel across Canada to see a place he had only read about in the many books and atlases he had collected about the country.
His hobbies included playing chess and bridge with friends and working at a nearby garden plot given to him by a family member.
"I would play quite often chess with him and just before he left he gave me a gift of portable chess board," said Ryszard Krasinski, Dziekanski's friend of eight years.
"He had a huge collection of atlases and other geographical material and he had very deep knowledge of geography."
When he left for Canada, Dziekanski, who only spoke Polish, had barely been outside the country and never overseas.
His long trip to Vancouver was his first time flying, and the thought of being on a plane terrified him.
When a friend arrived to drive him to the airport, Dziekanski was in a panic, clutching a radiator, vomiting and refusing to leave.
The scene brings to mind the video of Dziekanski's final moments the next day in Vancouver, the would-be immigrant pacing around the international terminal, throwing furniture and rambling in Polish about smashing the area around him but also asking for help.
Dziekanski's neighbours insisted he didn't anger easily and was never aggressive -- a description echoed by border agents and airline staff who said he was calm and co-operative when they dealt with him.
RCMP lawyers at the inquiry have made much of Dziekanski's apparent legal troubles stretching back to an incident more than two decades earlier.
Dziekanski may have spent time in a reformatory school following a robbery when he was 17, but details have been foggy because it didn't result in a criminal record.
Police and prosecutors in Canada have also suggested Dziekanski was an alcoholic, but his neighbours say he was only a social drinker and had rarely, if ever, seen him drunk.
Whatever his problems, they weren't too much for Canadian immigration officials, who approved him to enter the country.
"He was talking about it quite often -- he told me he was going to Canada, where there is milk and honey," says neighbour and family friend Magda Czelwinska.
"He was very happy because he loved his mother very much and he couldn't wait to meet her."