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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vancouver transit police refuse to testify at taser inquiry

May 14, 2008
David Hogben and Jonathan Fowlie, Vancouver Sun

The transit police force -- under fire last month for using Tasers against nonviolent passengers -- is refusing to testify at the provincial inquiry into the use of the stun guns.

The Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service was to make a submission Tuesday at former appeal court justice Thomas Braidwood's provincially ordered inquiry, but decided not to attend.

"The Braidwood inquiry is to get at the policies; it's not to lay blame," inquiry counsel Art Vertlieb said in an interview. "They had issues in the media and it was a chance for them to be transparent, but they felt it was better to deal with the Police Complaints Commission."

Transit police were embroiled in a Taser-related controversy after an article in The Vancouver Sun revealed they had used the electroshock device 10 times over 18 months. On four occasions, transit police used the Tasers on non-aggressive, non-compliant passengers, according to information acquired through access-to-information legislation.

Sgt. Willie Merenick, a spokesman for the transit police, said Tuesday the transit police did not want to do anything to interfere with the Police Complaints Commission investigation into Taser use by the force. "It's like any investigation really. You cannot really take the evidence and disrupt the investigation," Merenick said.

The complaints commission announced it would investigate Taser use by the transit police after a complaint by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. Rob Holmes, president of the association, said the transit police explanation for not attending did "not make sense. He said there was no legal reason why the transit police could not participate in the Braidwood inquiry, noting Braidwood is "obviously engaging in a civil inquiry."

Bruce Brown, Police Complaints Commission deputy commissioner, said he could not comment on the decision by the transit police.

Braidwood has included the use of Tasers by transit police in his inquiry's mandate.

Solicitor-General John van Dongen refused to say Tuesday whether he believes members of the transit police should appear at the inquiry.

"Commissioner Braidwood has conduct of the inquiry. I would assume that's up to his discretion if he wants to bring them in front of the inquiry," said van Dongen. "I have confidence in Commissioner Braidwood to make all of the decisions and call whatever witnesses he feels are appropriate for him to conduct the mandate of his inquiry."

New Democratic Party public safety critic Mike Farnworth said he can't understand why the transit force will not appear. Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer for Zofia Cisowski, Robert Dziekanski's mother, said: "We expected to hear from the transit authority this afternoon. They were invited to speak. They are an organization that uses a Taser. They declined to appear. What does that tell you about the public trust you can have in a police force not prepared to show up at a public forum and put their views forward before the public?"

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