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Sunday, February 03, 2008

EDITORIAL: Why rush on tasers?

February 3, 2008
Toronto Star

Robert Dziekanski was hit by a Taser at Vancouver Airport and died after struggling with RCMP officers. Near Hawkesbury, police zapped a disturbed man on a bus who was ripping the skin from his head. In Ottawa, police took down a teen who seemed suicidal.

Canadians have reason to worry about the growing use of Tasers by police in situations that once might have been dealt with by employing judicious physical restraint. This "usage creep" is troubling, and so is the lack of national Taser-use guidelines.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh said last week that Taser technology seems "riskier than I was led to believe." This from the man who okayed Canada's first Taser pilot project when he was B.C.'s attorney-general. Dosanjh aired his concern as Parliament's public safety committee looked into Dziekanski's death. Several Vancouver probes are also underway. The Ontario government, too, wants feedback before sanctioning more Tasers. Ideally, a consensus will emerge from all this.

Yet before the results are in, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair proposes to spend $8 million to buy thousands more Tasers, after inquests urged their use. And the RCMP is shopping for 160. What's the rush?

The RCMP public complaints commission recently urged police to use Tasers only on suspects who pose a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm" to police, themselves or others. That forced the RCMP to remind officers that they may not use Tasers on people who resist passively or are belligerent.

That the Mounties needed reminding makes the case for national guidelines, and better training, before police go shopping for more.

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