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Monday, November 19, 2007

British Columbia launches public inquiry into taser incident

November 19, 2007
CTV News

B.C. Solicitor General John Les has launched a full public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after RCMP officers shocked him with a Taser at Vancouver International Airport. "We've decided it's in the public interest that a public inquiry should be held into the matter at YVR," Les said at the B.C. legislature. "What we're saying today is we intend to address this in a way that is fully public." Les said the inquiry will also examine how Tasers are used by police departments across the province.

Political analyst Joy MacPhail, former interim leader of the B.C. New Democrats, said the inquiry will likely be limited in scope. "(The solicitor general) has no control over the airport, he has no control over the Canadian Border Services," she told CTV's Mike Duffy Live. "The only area he does have control over is the use of Tasers in the province."

But Les said the inquiry commissioner, to be selected by the government in the near future, will also look at the actions of border officials and airport staff. "Everyone is shocked and saddened by what happened here at Vancouver airport," said Les. "It clearly was extremely disturbing."

Premier Gordon Campbell said the inquiry is necessary to dispel any fears that travellers may have about visiting the province. "We think it's important for British Columbians and people who are going to visit British Columbia to know what we've learned and what we're going to do differently and how we're going to improve on what was clearly a human tragedy for everyone who was involved in it," he said.

There are several investigations already underway to examine the circumstances around Dziekanski's death, including an inquest by the B.C. Coroner's office and a comprehensive probe by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team. Earlier Monday, NDP Leader Jack Layton asked that all RCMP officers authorized to use Tasers go through a re-training program, until those investigations are complete. He also suggested an outright moratorium on the use of Tasers.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper replied that the government is waiting until investigations into Dziekanski's death are complete. "The government doesn't interfere in the operational activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," he said during question period in the House of Commons. "That said, there are inquiries underway and we'll be following those inquiries, and also looking at what other options and what other actions may be necessary in this case."

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott announced last week that the four officers involved in the incident have been reassigned.

Despite the controversy surrounding the use of Tasers against Dziekanski, the Vancouver Police Department has ordered 70 more of the devices. That means all 110 officers trained to use the weapon can have one. Department spokesperson Const. Tim Fanning said giving officers their own Taser will increase their accountability for how they use the stun gun. "The reason we put this request in ... is so that there's more accountability so each Taser is issued to the officers that are trained, so that they have their own personal issue rather than going into a pool," he said.

The Arizona-based manufacturer of Tasers says there is no evidence the device has ever caused a single death.

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