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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

EDITORIAL: Their reckless love of tasers

March 3, 2008

The RCMP love their tasers. They think the people they shoot should love it, too, or so they suggested when their officers appeared before a government committee last week. They even referred to the person whom they blast with the taser's 50,000 volts of electricity as "the client." Good afternoon, sir, we'll be right with you. Will that be one shock or two?

The committee session was revealing. Nothing has shaken the police's faith in the taser. Not the needless death of 40-year-old Robert Dziekanski, a distressed but apparently harmless Polish immigrant, at the Vancouver International Airport in October. Not the cynicism with which the members of the public greeted the RCMP in parts of British Columbia after the horrifying videotape was released of the Mounties’ taser assault on Mr. Dziekanski. And not the criticisms of the taser from an independent RCMP watchdog.

Sergeant Richard Groulx, who trains officers in taser use, told the committee that to improve his credibility as a witness in court he let himself be tasered for 15 seconds rather than the usual five-second blast. It hardly bothered him. “I felt like I had just finished a workout at the gym. I was tired. … I could get up and fight if I wanted to.”

Did the committee challenge him? Did it point out that police officers who had been tasered as part of their training told an independent investigation that it was the worst pain they had ever experienced, akin to absorbing “100 punches in the face”? Did anyone think to point out that the United Nations Committee against Torture likened the pain caused by tasers to torture?

No, the committee members sat on their hands.

And did anyone issue even a mild snort of disgust when that same Sgt. Groulx used the term “client” (“the reaction we get from the client … is they have that jerking motion”)? Did anyone ask in what sense the late Mr. Dziekanski was a client of the four RCMP officers who within 25 seconds of approaching him tasered him twice? No, they did not.

And why do the RCMP love the potentially lethal taser, a love shared by other police forces in this country? Because, explained Assistant Commissioner Darrell LaFosse, it “brought a whole new outcome to some of the ugliest situations police are called to handle. Where once they faced a real possibility of bruises and broken bones, now a member could deploy the device at a few metres distant, stop the suspect in their tracks, and place handcuffs on them with far fewer injuries to all sides. … This is an extremely valuable policing tool with huge benefits to police and perpetrators alike.” Pepper spray, the baton and physical combat all have their flaws, he said. With little muss and little fuss, the police can fire their taser.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosajnh ventured to ask a critical question. When he was British Columbia’s attorney-general in the 1990s, the taser was first used in a pilot project in Victoria. His impression was that it was “a second-last resort,” taking the place of a gun. Sgt. Groulx told him that the RCMP have never used it as a replacement for lethal force.

This is astonishing. A top lawmaker (later attorney-general of Canada) misunderstood the purpose of a powerful weapon in the police arsenal. That misconception is widely shared. And that is why tasers continue to have some public support. Some people still believe they are used as an alternative to guns.

In fact, tasers may be used on anyone who appears combative. They are seen as better than a baton, physical strength or pepper spray. Sometimes, as in the Dziekanski case, they are used instead of old-fashioned, low-tech talking and common sense. The “client” list is ever-expanding. The RCMP used their tasers on more than 1,000 “clients” last year, a doubling of the clientele in just two years.

The RCMP’s love for their tasers is shameless and blind. They will not put strict limits on their treasured stun guns unless ordered to. They should be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The real reason police like Tasers so much is because they give them ultimate power over people without so much as having to strain their brains or muscles. The longer they use Tasers the less they will be able to 'police' as they used to. They enjoy inflicting pain too much, especially knowing their 'clients' can't fight back.