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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Plea for more talk, fewer tasers

May 8, 2008

VANCOUVER -- Police across North America have earned the moniker "psychiatrists in blue" for their constant intervention with the mentally ill.

It's for that reason that the Canadian Mental Health Association implored the head of a B.C. public inquiry into the use of Tasers by law enforcement yesterday to convince police to talk more and use the Tasers less.

Yet an official with the provincial solicitor general's ministry told the inquiry there has actually been "slippage" in the threshold for the use of the shock weapons. Kevin Begg, assistant deputy minister for the B.C. Solicitor General's Ministry, said police officers seem to be moving too quickly to use force rather than trying to calm the situation.

The Taser was never meant to be used as a compliance weapon, he said, and the government had been contemplating changes even before a man died at Vancouver's airport last year. "Our view is that Taser needs to be up further on the continuum (of force) and should be used on the assaultive level."

Camia Weaver, of the Canadian Mental Health Association, told commissioner Thomas Braidwood that police may not want to be in the position of front-line mental health workers, but that's the reality.

Statistics show that over 30% of people in B.C. receiving mental health services got there by having some kind of confrontation with police first.

The inquiry was announced following the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport last fall.

An agitated Dziekanski was hit twice with an RCMP Taser after four police officers responded to a call of a man acting erratically at the airport arrivals area.

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