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Thursday, November 01, 2007

RCMP not following Taser training guidelines, critic says

November 1, 2007
CBC News

The RCMP were not following their own training guidelines when they used a Taser weapon to stun a man at Vancouver's International Airport earlier this month, according to a lawyer with experience in Taser cases. A Taser is a high-voltage weapon designed to help police stun subjects and subdue them without seriously harming them.

Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, died within minutes of falling to the ground and his death is now a homicide investigation.

An RCMP training document on the use of force, obtained by CBC News, says a person must have the ability, intent and means to injure or kill someone before force is used to restrain them.

Dziekanski was reportedly wielding an office stapler two metres from the nearest police officer when the Taser was used.

Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward, who represented a man who died after being jolted by a police taser in 2004, told CBC News Wednesday that based on those guidelines, and eyewitness accounts, the officers should not have used the Taser to subdue Dziekanski. "They are supposed to follow those rules. They are supposed to abide by their training and they're supposed to obey the law," Ward said. "These circumstances did not call for them to shoot this man."

RCMP Corp. Greg Gillis, who's spent seven years training officers to use the weapon, told CBC News that the guidelines for using force are taught to cadets, but are more of a "model" or "training tool" than hard and fast rules that must be followed. The RCMP's Taser training expert could not speak about the specifics of the Dziekanski case, but said that Tasers are often safer than physical force, causing less potential harm to both police and the public.

"If we end up, for example, down on the ground and officers get injured we potentially increase the risk to the public as well, if we're not able to get quick and effective control," said Gillis.

According to witnesses, when several RCMP officers confronted 40-year-old Dziekanski at the airport early on Oct. 14, the man was agitated, shouting, banging on windows and throwing things on the ground. Witnesses told CBC News that police used a Taser within 30 seconds of arriving on the scene and never attempted to talk to him or calm him down. RCMP say the man was jolted twice with 50,000 volts.

Police say there is no national standard for all Canadian police forces regarding the use of Tasers. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is calling for a moratorium on Taser use until there is a national standard.

Ward has gone a step further and asked John Les, B.C.'s solicitor general, to order the RCMP to only use the device when they would normally use a gun.

Tasers are high-voltage weapons designed to help police stun subjects and subdue them without seriously harming them. Critics point to the death of more than 50 people in North America after being hit with a Taser since 2001. But the exact cause of death is often medically contentious.

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