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Monday, February 18, 2008

Taser use to come under scrutiny at inquiry into death at Vancouver airport

February 18, 2008
Canadian Press

VICTORIA - The use of Tasers by British Columbia law enforcement officers will come under scrutiny at a public inquiry into the death of a Polish immigrant hit with a Taser blast at the Vancouver airport last fall.

But the phase of the inquiry that will look into overall Taser use will not be able to compel witnesses to testify, nor can it make findings of misconduct against individuals, the province's attorney general announced Monday.

The commissioner will be able to make recommendations to the government on the use of Tasers in the province.

"There are two parts of the question that need to be answered," said Attorney General Wally Oppal. "The first is the appropriate use of Tasers: Under what circumstances should police forces be using Tasers, given the vast amount of conflicting evidence there is all across North America?"

Oppal said the province also wants the hed of the commission, former B.C. Appeal Court Justice Tom Braidwood, to review what should be the appropriate use for Tasers for police forces in the province.

He said the inquiry could lead to changes in the use of Tasers in B.C.

"A lot of police forces across North America are having second thoughts about the use of Tasers, given some of the medical opinions that are out there now."

Solicitor General John Les announced the commission of inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski last November.

The second phase of the commission, reviewing the specific circumstances of Dziekanski's Oct. 14 death, will be able to call witnesses and will have the authority to make findings of misconduct.

Oppal said the two phases of inquiry will provide Dziekanski's family and the public with a complete record of the circumstances surrounding his death.

Although the RCMP is a federal police force, Oppal said the federal government has indicated it will co-operate and he expects the RCMP to comply with any changes that come out of the commission.

"They (RCMP) are not technically obliged but, you know, they're the provincial police force. I would expect that whatever happens, the RCMP, given our past history of co-operation, will co-operate with us," he said.

Oppal acknowledged there are growing concerns about the use of Tasers but he is not considering a moratorium on their use.

"There's just as much evidence on the other side as to its continued use," he said. "The police keep telling us that, in fact, it saves lives."

Oppal said it would be premature to institute a ban, given the mandate of the first phase of the inquiry.

Dziekanski, 40, became agitated after spending hours lost in the secure arrivals area of the airport after a long flight from Frankfurt, Germany.

Four RCMP offices responded to calls after Dziekanski flung a chair at a glass partition and tossed a computer to the floor. Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish, then barricaded the exit into the reception area where his mother had waited for him for several hours.

Video footage taken by a bystander shows Dziekanski being hit at least twice with a Taser jolt. He died within minutes.

Taser International, which manufactures the Taser, maintains the death cannot be blamed on the device, which immobilizes people with an electrical shock.

The criminal investigation into the incident is continuing and a separate coroner's inquest has been scheduled for May.

Braidwood's Taser review inquiry is to be finished by June 30. The commissioner will then decide when the inquiry into Dziekanski's death will begin.

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