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Thursday, May 15, 2008

EDITORIAL: RCMP should be forthcoming on taser use

May 15, 2008
The Belleville Intelligencer

In the world of policing, when a suspect or even a witness is less than forthcoming, an officer's radar tells him or her someone's hiding something.

How should the Canadian public, then, react when it hears the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are steadfastly withholding information about how and when its officers use the controversial Taser?

Mounties have stripped any new answers from a heavily censored report on the high-profile stun gun incident involving Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver Airport. The report was 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.

There's a disturbing pattern emerging where the Mounties seem to be circling the wagons when it comes to scrutiny over the use of Tasers. The national police service has routinely avoided any details about how and when it uses Tasers when the issue of appropriate use of the device is questioned.

Opposition MPs and human rights groups have criticized the RCMP for being so secretive about the use of Tasers, including injuries suffered by people stunned and whether they were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time.

Many police agencies naturally don't like it when the media comes snooping. But, this is an extremely troubling pattern of obfuscation on the part of the Mounties as it goes to the core of public oversight in policing practices that may just be unsafe or, at the very least, require the kind of review that will come out of the Dziekanski/Taser hearings that have recently begun in British Columbia. The two-phase public inquiry being conducted in Vancouver is based on circumstances surrounding his death and the broader issue of the practice of Taser use by police.

But, the fact inquiries will likely extract all the information Mounties have recently blacked out of requested reports should not excuse the RCMP from their stonewalling tactics.

A national police agency thumbing its nose at public oversight is simply not acceptable.

Missing from the requested 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.

Pressure is mounting on the Mounties to lift the lid on what went on in this case.

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