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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Public inquiry into taser use [in British Columbia] begins on Monday

May 4, 2008
Lora Grindlay, Vancouver Province, with Canwest News Service

A public inquiry into the use of the controversial Taser in B.C. begins Monday.

Headed by retired B.C. Supreme Court judge Thomas Braidwood, the first of two phases of the inquiry is a study into the use of the conducted energy weapons.

After reviewing written submissions and public forums to be held until May 23, Braidwood will make recommendations on the appropriate use of the weapons by B.C. police forces (other than the RCMP, who operate under federal regulations), sheriffs and corrections officers.

Braidwood has said he will also review Taser use by the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police. Input will focus on rules of use and training for officers, and the safety and effectiveness of the stun guns. Tasers are used to physically incapacitate a person by discharging controlled electric energy into the body.

Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward, who has conducted extensive legal research into Taser use, and represents the family of Robert Bagnall who died after being Tasered by Vancouver Police in 2004, will speak at the inquiry on May 22.

Ward told The Province Sunday that until studies independent of the manufacturer and of law enforcement are conducted, there should be a moratorium on their use.

"Given the number of deaths that have occurred consequential to Taser use - well in excess of 300 in North America to date - I'm concerned that there has not been sufficient independent, rigorous, scientific and medical testing of the weapon to determine whether or not they are safe or whether they may cause death," Ward said.

He is hopeful Braidwood will recommend a moratorium. "If the Braidwood inquiry carefully considers the range of views offered by the presenters that certainly would be a possibility. It is certainly the approach I would advocate."

Ward will also speak of his concerns about "useage creep" of Tasers by police and others. "The weapon is being used often to get people to comply with direction and perhaps even as punishment," said Ward. "The use has gone way beyond that which originally the proponents were advocating which is as an alternative to lethal force."

It was recently revealed that members of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service used their Tasers 10 times since January 2007, twice against fare-evaders.

Braidwood is set to hear from electrical engineer J. Patrick Reilly Monday morning and biomedical engineer John Webster Monday afternoon.

He will also hear from a prison warden, doctors, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, police forces and the manufacturer of the guns, Arizona-based Taser International Inc.

The second phase of the inquiry - for which a date has not been set - will probe and report on the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport in October.

Dziekanski died moments after being Tasered by airport Mounties.

Video shot by a passerby horrified people all over the world who watched an erratic, frustrated and confused Dziekanski die on the airport floor.

Braidwood is expected to report back on the first phase to the B.C. government by June 30. Victoria ordered the inquiry following Dziekanski's death.

Walter Kosteckyj, lawyer for Dziekanski's mom Zophia Cisowski, will speak to the inquiry on May 15.

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