April 3, 2008
Members of Parliament will hold closed-door meetings Thursday with RCMP, border and airport officials on the use of electronic stun guns in Canada, prompting some to question the need for secrecy.
The House of Commons committee on public safety and national security is holding two days of meetings at Vancouver International Airport, where Robert Dziekanski died after RCMP stunned him with a Taser last October.
The public safety committee is studying the growing use of Tasers in Canada, where more than 6,800 officers are armed with the stun guns, and investigating the events surrounding Dziekanski's death. A committee report will be provided to the House.
Committee member and Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh told CBC News he was surprised to learn the briefings would not be open to the public.
"These kinds of hearings where the RCMP tells us how they interact with the [Canadian Border Services Agency] and vice versa, how the airport authority manages these issues, they should all be public unless they can justify talking to us behind closed doors," said Dosanjh.
He said he plans to lobby other committee members to open up Thursday's discussions.
Representatives from the RCMP, Vancouver Airport Authority and Canada Border Services Agency are all scheduled to give private briefings to committee members, who last November voted unanimously in favour of the probe.
Public forum to follow
The committee clerk said the meetings — which will not be tape recorded but documented using notes taken by committee staff — were organized privately as a courtesy to participants. A public forum scheduled for Friday will feature presentations from Taser critics, the clerk said.
The decision to hold private meetings was decided by the committee in advance, according to Conservative member Gary Breitkreuz, who said he was limited on what he could comment on.
The decision to hold the meetings behind closed doors will not do much to instil public confidence in the use of Tasers, said the committee's vice-chair New Democrat Penny Priddy.
"That there won't be information about it, or that it is all in camera, I think simply raises more questions in the minds of people who are already questioning their use."
She said the witnesses scheduled for Thursday are all accustomed to presenting to committees and shouldn't have a problem addressing an audience.
The Vancouver Airport Authority and CBSA said they didn't ask to exclude the public from the meetings, but aren't planning on sharing any information that hasn't already been made public.
The RCMP has not responded to questions about its role in the committee briefings. Assistant commissioner Al Macintyre is one of several people scheduled to provide a private brief.
Witnesses who appear before parliamentary committees testify under oath, although their words can't be used against them in other legal proceedings.
The committee probe is one of several into Taser use in Canada, which include:
The B.C. public inquiry.
A review by the RCMP watchdog.
An internal RCMP investigation.
An internal report expected Friday from the Canada Border Services Agency.
A review of Tasers by Nova Scotia in the wake of a death there.
A review of Taser use by police in Manitoba.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Thursday, April 03, 2008
April 3, 2008