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Thursday, November 01, 2007

EDITORIAL: Too much taser secrecy

November 1, 2007
Vancouver Sun

Paul Pritchard made two responsible decisions on the night he arrived back in Canada at Vancouver International Airport on his way from China. The 25-year-old teacher refused an order from a security guard to turn off his video camera while Robert Dziekanski was being Tasered by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers after being stuck in the airport for 10 hours.

Then Pritchard acceded to a request from an officer on the scene to hand over his tape for a couple of days to assist in the investigation of Dziekanski's death.

Pritchard's first decision resulted in the creation of a series of videos that by all accounts are the best record of what happened in the minutes before the police arrived, while officers were subduing the distraught visitor from Poland and of his death minutes later.

His second, made in the laudable spirit of doing his civic duty to help authorities investigate a tragedy, has backfired ... the RCMP is now refusing to return his videos. That decision is at best foolish and, at worst, extremely self-serving. It's further evidence that the RCMP should not investigate its own officers' conduct in controversial cases.

The RCMP says it will not return the videos until all investigations are complete, which they say could take as long as 21/2 years. The RCMP argues that allowing the videos to be viewed publicly now could taint the testimony of other witnesses, who may respond to the video rather than their original recollection. On the face of it, that argument is simply silly.

A video is essentially unbiased, unassailable testimony. True, a single camera may not tell the entire story, but the portion it recounts can only be enhanced, not contradicted by other accounts. In the absence of a credible threat to the integrity of an investigation, the public is left to wonder whether the videos are being repressed because the RCMP has something to hide.

Given all the other disturbing questions raised by this senseless tragedy, this one should be quickly put to rest by returning the video to its rightful owner. Once again, he's trying to do his civic duty -- this time by suing the RCMP for its release.

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