June 19, 2008
GARY MASON, Globe and Mail
REGINA -- As Dirk Ryneveld continued telling his story, you could see heads in the audience beginning to shake in that disgusted, isn't-that-just-typical sort of way.
The subject was tasers. The occasion was the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which included officials from police watchdog agencies across the country and around the world.
B.C.'s police complaint commissioner was telling the gathering about a wide-ranging investigation he held into the use of the tasers back in 2004. It was prompted by the in-custody death of Robert Bagnell after he was tasered by the Vancouver police.
The commissioner thought that conducted energy weapons needed a more thorough examination, so he had the Victoria Police Department carry that out on his behalf. A wide range of specialists were consulted. Later that year, Mr. Ryneveld issued an interim report.
It called for: standardized testing and training across police forces; mandatory reporting on deployment of the taser; and training for people dealing with what is known as "excited delirium" or cocaine-induced psychosis. It suggested police immediately call for medical assistance when a person had been hit by a taser.
In response to suggestions by medical experts that some people were likely dying from the holds police put them in after they were tasered, Mr. Ryneveld suggested law enforcement agencies introduce strict restraint protocols to reduce the chance of this occurring. He recommended that the taser be used on individuals exhibiting combative behaviour only. He urged police departments and the provincial government of B.C. to conduct further studies into the weapon.
As an independent officer of the B.C. Legislature, Mr. Ryneveld could not order his recommendations into law. And they covered only municipal police forces in the province anyway. Nearly 70 per cent of B.C. is policed by the RCMP. It was up to the B.C. solicitor-general to follow through on the changes Mr. Ryneveld had proposed.
So what happened?
Nothing. The report and all its fine research and proposals were thrown in a filing cabinet somewhere and forgotten.
"You can lead a horse to water," Mr. Ryneveld said yesterday. You could hear groans in the audience.
Years after Mr. Ryneveld issued his report, the taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport would prompt a mass overreaction by politicians and give birth to a number of different investigations and inquiries. Yesterday, the head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP issued his final report on the use of the taser. The similarity between many of Paul Kennedy's recommendations and Mr. Ryneveld's are unmistakable.
In fact, Mr. Ryneveld must be wondering why his name wasn't on the report too.
And there is no doubt that many of the recommendations that former judge Thomas Braidwood makes when he wraps up his inquiry in Vancouver will also duplicate those of the B.C. police complaint commissioner.
Isn't there something all too typical about this? Good and valuable reports ignored by our political leaders because they're simply not a priority at the time or, in the case of Mr. Ryneveld's report, because it would mean stepping on the toes of a group of people politicians generally don't like to upset: the police.
Well, at least until it becomes politically necessary to do so.
When, for instance, someone dies after being tasered and the whole ugly affair is caught on camera and produces international outrage and the public is demanding that something be done.
Then, amazingly, our politicians find courage.
Mr. Ryneveld was remarkably restrained after his speech. He refused to indulge in any shots at those who ignored the alarm he sounded on tasers years ago. And when asked about the amazing parallels in his recommendations and Mr. Kennedy's, he would offer only a tight, wordless smile.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Thursday, June 19, 2008
June 19, 2008