Another Sad Chapter
The subject line of the email read simply “Just in case you missed it”. I saw that it was from Monty Robinson. He regularly sends me updates about his ongoing civil and criminal complaints against the RCMP, and I assumed this note was another installment.
“Just in case you missed it.” I almost didn’t open it. Then I decided to see what I might have missed.
Click. The email contained a link to a news story from that day: Zofia Cisowski was dead.
Before I could even bring myself to read the brief details, my mind began playing a movie of the past twelve years. A movie in which Zofia Cisowski was a constant, tragic and sympathetic character. Her face, even when she wasn’t in tears, always wore the same pained and sorrowful expression. It was my job to speak with Zofia whenever there was a twist in the slow motion train wreck that was the decade-long investigation into her son’s death. I loathed and resisted every phone call, every scrum, and every question, because I sensed they only irritated her loss. There were countless times we talked privately without a microphone as our negotiator. In court room hallways, her living room in Kamloops, and even at the very spot her son Robert died. I came to know exactly how Zofia felt about the event that would define her life. Any journalist with even a passing knowledge of the case would know what she thought. I knew how she felt. So much unresolved sadness and loss, and yes, anger for the death of her son, despite ten years of inquiries and prosecutions, ostensibly to afford Zofia a measure of reconciliation and peace. It was knowing this that I read the scant details of her passing.
In the same apartment she once shared with Robert in Gliwice Poland, Zofia apparently suffered a stroke and collapsed. She died following a second stroke in hospital November 18. She was 73.
The rest of the news story cobbles together an imperfect version of Robert’s death in 2007, and subsequent events. This is not an appropriate occasion to quibble. Blamed and Broken, which I don’t believe Zofia ever read, stands as the only complete and comprehensive narrative of what happened. And as I made clear in the book, no amount of facts negates the very real and tragic grief Zofia lived with every day since that horrible night. Whenever we spoke, her sorrow was almost like a physical weight I felt compelled to help her carry. All those interviews over the years were intrusions. I never lost sight of the potential to do more harm than good by asking questions, regardless of how important I thought her answers might be. Still, Zofia was always eager to invite me into some the most difficult moments she had since Robert died. I remember standing with her in the dim light of Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver on the fifth anniversary of Robert’s death. The priest had delivered a homily about forgiveness, but Zofia, a devout catholic, was struggling. She was torn between wanting peace and wanting justice, which she saw as mutually exclusive. She was never able to forgive the four Mounties involved in her son’s death.
A few years later on the 8th anniversary, I was with Zofia when she haltingly approached the very spot where Robert drew his last breath on the floor of the international arrivals area of Vancouver airport. I could not help but shed tears at the sight of hers as she was once more encouraged by a chaplain to seek forgiveness. “It’s too late for me”, she said, before placing a bouquet of red and white roses symbolizing the flags of Poland and Canada, on the nearby counter.
There were times I saw Zofia smile. She even laughed. But those moments were always short lived and it seemed she expended monumental effort to occasionally acknowledge a joke, or something trivial and lighthearted. Zofia’s heart never seemed to be light. How could anyone's be if there was a video of your child's last moments just a click away? I imagine those who knew her best, including her surviving family in Poland, witnessed the joy that must have occasionally crept back into her life. But she remained steadfast in her conviction that justice was never served, telling me once at her dining table in Kamloops that justice would be allowing her to use a Taser – just once – on each of the four Mounties who were the last people to deal with Robert. The cash from a civil settlement – the amount and details of which were secret until appearing in Blamed and Broken – helped Zofia buy a small house, and do some travelling. But in the last years of her life, Zofia could not escape the thought that she’d been just steps away from her son before he died. Her house was full of reminders: photographs of Robert in every corner and on every shelf; a clock made from a world map and a black globe because Robert was interested in geography; his suitcase, still with the YVR tag on it, preserved like a religious icon.
More than a decade ago, Robert’s remains were cremated and buried in a family plot in a cemetery in Zofia’s home town of Pieszyce. Today, Zofia will be laid to rest alongside him. I could write something about that, hoping it was profound and uplifting. But I won’t because I can't lie to you. It’s just sad.