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Friday, May 23, 2008

Senior B.C. Mounties defend use of tasers

May 23, 2008
Suzanne Fournier, The Province

Three RCMP officers faced the Braidwood inquiry on Tasers yesterday to express "condolences" for the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, but also to insist the Taser is a valuable tool they plan to keep using.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre, head of E division in B.C., said he wanted to "express my sincere condolences to the Dziekanski family and especially to Zofia Cisowski on the death of her loved one."

But Macintyre also said the "RCMP continues to believe the Conducted Energy Weapon is a valuable tool . . . that when used properly can save lives and reduce injury to officers and to the public."

Macintyre noted RCMP appeared "voluntarily" at the Taser inquiry, which was set up by the B.C. government and has no jurisdiction over the federal force.

Outside the inquiry, Macintyre admitted that the worldwide attention garnered by a cellphone video of Dziekanski being Tasered last Oct. 14 at the Vancouver International Airport, and then dying within seconds "was tough for us, very tough."

He said Mounties will appear at the coroner's inquest into Dziekanski's death and are co-operating with ongoing criminal investigations by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team and B.C. Crown counsel.

RCMP use-of-force trainer Cpl. Gregg Gillis said RCMP in B.C. used Tasers 496 times in 2007, and they've been used 148 times this year. A total of 3,153 RCMP officers in B.C. are trained to use the Taser in the event of "active resistance."

Earlier yesterday, biomedical engineer Pierre Savard, of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, said the effects of the Taser on the heart are similar to two major cardiac tests, but those tests are carried out only in a medical setting and only when there is a defibrillator present to bring a person back to life.

Taser International says its weapons can't kill, but Savard noted the company warns there is "a degree of risk that someone will get hurt or may even be killed due to . . . unforeseen circumstances and individual susceptibilities."

Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward, representing the family of Robert Bagnell, who died after he was Tasered by Vancouver police in 2004, said he has compiled a list of 344 "unexplained deaths" in people who were Tasered.

Ward said one of the two Tasers used on Bagnell registered thousands of times the supposed 50,000-volt electrical output when tested by an independent lab and he recommended the Taser used on Dziekanski should also be tested.

The inquiry concludes its first phase today with a presentation by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Commissioner Tom Braidwood, a retired judge, will look into Dziekanski's death in the fall.

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