September 14, 2006

Coffee with Riki and Patti, Part 1

Robert Wayne Bagnell as a teen.

I had the great joy to meet some of Bob Bagnell's family in person for the first time yesterday.

Bob's sister Patti and his Mum Riki are in Vancouver to attend the Coroner's Inquest into Bob's death. We met at a Starbucks near the office tower where the Coroner's Court is located.

Knowing Bob briefly (but significantly to me) as I did, and having advocated for him in personal and social terms, I've grown to identify with these two ladies, and feel immense sympathy for their loss. I have also felt frustration at the delays and complications that have been imposed upon them while they look for answers and more information.

To me, they've expressed their gratitude for my attempts to promote a sympathetic and human image of their dear "Bobby". In simple terms, through our email exchanges and few phone calls, we've extended our hearts and minds to each other, with Bob as the glue. I suspect Bob might like that very much.

I think we fairly glowed at each other, meeting in person for the first time. They are both such lovely ladies; living reflections of a part of Bob that I had caught glimpses of here and there: humour, sincerity and a plain-spoken heartfulness. Bob has a warm and loving family, and they are still fighting for him today.

We swapped stories for about an hour and a half, many about Bob and how he was as a young kid, and how he decided to go his own way in life and explore his own road.

We talked about their son's love of art and drawing, and of his inner imagery, sometimes dark, sometimes colourful, and always passionately his own way.

We talked about Bob's struggle with addictions, and the people he'd come to know at the Dr. Peter Centre, where he was days away from having his paintings put up in an art exhibition. We talked about the people and programs at the Broadway Church, where Bob had found emotional and spiritual support as he tried to bolster himself and set his life back on the rails.

Riki said that her son Bobby had become "the poster child" for the whole Taser issue. Riki and Patti also could not say enough in praise of their lawyer Cameron Ward, referring to him as "a Wizard". He is obviously a tireless champion of their cause.

The following was reposted (without permission) from the web site of Cameron Ward, solicitor for the Bagnell family in this matter:

Bagnell Inquest adjourned amid controversy
September 14, 2006

Coroner Stephen Fonseca today adjourned the coroner's inquest into the death of Robert Bagnell and ordered a ban on publication or distribution of a letter dated September 14, 2005 from Victoria Chief Constable Paul Battershill to B.C. Police Complaint Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld and Vancouver Chief Constable Jamie Graham.

Yesterday, the coroner's jury heard that the two Tasers used on Bagnell were tested by Intertek ETL Semko and that one of them generated 30.42 joules/pulse of energy in conditions designed to simulate contact with human skin. This is 84.5 times greater than the manufacturer's specification of 0.36 joules/pulse. The author of the report was scheduled to testify today.

Robert Bagnell died June 23, 2004. On July 25, 2004, VPD Detective Faora advised his mother that he died of a drug overdose. On July 23, 2004, after the body had been cremated and the ashes delivered to the family, the VPD issued a media release advising the public of the death and stating that Bagnell had been "Tasered" and had died in police custody. On August 16, 2004, VPD Deputy Chief LePard issued a follow-up media release stating that the Taser was used to rescue Bagnell from a fire in the building.

Tasers are a controversial electrical weapon linked to the deaths of at least 215 people in Canada and the U.S.
Bagnell inquest continues
September 7, 2006

The five man jury at the coroner's inquest into the death of Robert Bagnell has heard that VPD homicide investigators did not interview any of the 12 VPD members who were at the scene when Bagnell died. Instead, after "decompressing", the police officers submitted brief written accounts later. The four ERT members who were in physical contact with Bagnell when he stopped breathing delivered their statements to investigators on July 9, 2004, seventeen days after the incident.

The deceased's mother Riki Bagnell testified that she learned Tasers had been used on her son about a month after his death, from TV news accounts. She said she asked the investigator why the police didn't just leave her son alone to calm down and his response was "That's a good question, Mrs. Bagnell". A few weeks later the VPD held a news conference to explain they Tasered Bagnell to rescue him from a fire in the building.

The VPD media accounts of the death are archived at

The Province of British Columbia allows police departments to investigate their own members in cases of serious injury and death despite recommendations of a coroner's jury in January 2004 that such investigations be done independently.

It's too easy for people to hear phrases like "drug user" or "cocaine" and place a human being into a negative or dehumanizing frame of reference. There are lots of people like Bob Bagnell in the downtown/Yaletown area, and I have had the pleasure to meet and know some of them a little bit during my daily commutes. They all seem to be struggling with something or other, but without enjoying the same tools and resources that many of the rest of us consider essential.

People are complex and contradictory, and cannot be reduced to a sound bite. I knew Bob Bagnell on and off for about a year or so, and saw a slightly messed up guy who was also an artist. He was struggling with his own problems, yet had a friendly nature and a sense of humour about life. He lived downtown, yet was one of the people in my residential East Van neighbourhood.

I saw the evidence of Bob trying to pull himself up into a clean, drug-free, more spiritual way of living. He was still HIV positive and apparently had some form of cancer. He had a lot of strikes against him, but with the help of people and various agencies or programs that cared about him, he'd gotten free of heroin and then methadone, and had begun seeking counselling and spiritual support. He had been actively involved in putting himself on a better, more hopeful path. If you or anyone you've known has struggled with an addiction, drugs, alcohol, or even tobacco, you must know that it can be difficult to stay clean. It can be a daily challenge. I'm certain Bob fought with that same thing, and that it was not easy for him. He was on the right path, except for his final fall from grace and his tragic, violent end.

Read more about Robert Wayne Bagnell here if you are curious:

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