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Monday, May 12, 2008

Details of Vancouver airport Tasering omitted from censored RCMP report

May 12, 2008
Jim Bronskill; Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press

The RCMP call it Occurrence No. 2007-34748.

Millions of people around the world know it as the infamous Taser zapping at the Vancouver International Airport last October that sparked so many questions about Robert Dziekanski's death.

The Mounties have stripped any new answers from a heavily censored report on the high-profile stun gun incident, obtained by The Canadian Press and CBC under the Access to Information Act.

Dziekanski died in the early hours of Oct. 14 after the RCMP hit the 40-year-old Polish immigrant with a Taser and pinned him to the airport floor. Police fired the electronic stun gun's metal probes less than 30 seconds after arriving on the scene of a sweaty, agitated Dziekanski, who had earlier tossed a small table and computer monitor in frustration.

Opposition MPs and human rights groups have criticized the RCMP for suppressing details of Taser cases, including injuries suffered by people stunned and whether they were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time.

The national police force has gone even further with the Dziekanski report, deleting information it routinely releases in other cases.

Though Dziekanski's name is struck from the four-page form, it is readily identifiable as his case, listing basic details well known to those who watched an amateur video of the RCMP arriving on the scene and shooting a Taser X26 at Dziekanski, who quickly crumpled in a heap.

Absent from the report is the name and rank of the officer who fired the Taser, the name of his supervisor, details about the duration of the firing, and the number of times the weapon was used in stun mode - a contact Tasering that's akin to leaning on a hot stove.

A written summary of the incident has been blanked out along with assessments as to whether use of the Taser helped the RCMP either "avoid use of lethal force" or "avoid injuries to subject or Police."

A passage about whether Dziekanski was armed or not has also been excised. One witness says he was waving a stapler at police.

New information is scant. The form says the RCMP officer issued the standard verbal command, "Police. Stop, or you will be hit with 50,000 volts of electricity." The lighting conditions are described as "Good artificial light." And the serial number of the Taser was X00-2226496.

In a letter accompanying the form, the RCMP says it invoked exemptions under the Access to Information Act to protect the privacy of the person stunned and to guard confidences about the force's investigations and weapons.

The RCMP did not return a phone call Sunday seeking comment on why it censored more information than usual. The deletions may, however, be due to the fact the Crown is still deciding whether to lay charges in the case following completion of a homicide probe.

Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh said regardless of the investigation the RCMP should tell the public whether Dziekanski was armed and how many times he was hit with the Taser.

"I don't see any reason why there should be an impediment to releasing information about how many times Mr. Dziekanski was stunned," he said in an interview Sunday. "Why would that be a problem, unless that was a fact in dispute?"

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said last month the Mounties have been forced to make tough choices on how much to publicly disclose about Taser incidents.

Elliott said some information about stun gun use cannot be made public. And he noted the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has access to full versions of all of the force's Taser reports.

Insp. Troy Lightfoot, an RCMP spokesman, said in March that internal analysis of the forms concluded the painful weapons were being used correctly.

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