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Friday, May 16, 2008

Taser killed my son, Dziekanski's mom says at inquest

May 16, 2008
Suzanne Fournier, The Province

All four presenters yesterday at the Braidwood Inquiry into Taser use called for a moratorium on its use, including the weeping mother of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who saw her son die seconds after being Tasered.

Zofia Cisowski said she was "shocked and distressed" to see how her son died, as captured on a bystander's video. "I know that my son would not die if he was not Tasered and I know he did not deserve the treatment he encountered at the Vancouver International Airport," she said.

Dziekanski was Tasered by RCMP after wandering around the international arrivals area for at least six hours on Oct. 14, following a flight from his native Poland.

Cisowski said: "Mr. Commissioner, my confidence and faith in RCMP and Canadian authorities are shattered."

Cisowski's lawyer, Walter Kosteckyj, who has attended the full two weeks of the inquiry, noted that police and government presenters "all agree on the fact that at the very least, a proper system of reporting, training and study be implemented. They all acknowledged that doubt existed over the safety of the Taser and that the issue of its safety had to be addressed first."

Demanding a moratorium, Kosteckyj said "it is time to put the genie back in the bottle and start from square one."

Amnesty International spokeswoman Hilary Homes, citing more than 300 U.S. deaths from Tasers and at least 19 in Canada since the weapon was introduced, also called for a moratorium on Taser use "pending a rigorous, independent and impartial study into their use and effects."

If no moratorium is declared, then the Taser's use should be strictly limited to situations where the next alternative would be deadly force, not as a "come-along" weapon used by police to make people obey them, said Homes.

And electronics consultant Randy Puder, also a mental-health advocate, said he asked Taser officials at a January 2008 Las Vegas trade show if the Taser's effects on people taking prescribed anti-psychotic medication has been studied.

"They told me they had no idea, and then they also chose to tell me that 'Dziekanski would have died anyway.'" Puder said he pressed them and was told, erroneously, that Dziekanski was suffering from alcohol withdrawal. In fact, autopsy results showed no traces of drugs or alcohol in Dziekanski's body.

Retired judge Tom Braidwood is the sole commissioner enquiring into Taser use by guards, police and corrections officers. Yesterday, he noted that the SkyTrain transit police, who reportedly have used Tasers on people resisting arrest, will likely appear before the inquiry today, after being ordered to do so by Solicitor-General John Van Dongen.

Braidwood's second inquiry into Dziekanski's death will likely begin in the fall, when the RCMP has finished its own investigations.

The inquiry continues next week.

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