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Friday, September 05, 2008

Editorial: Heed stun gun warning

September 5, 2008
Miramichi Leader, New Brunswick

Canada's former top cop has said the RCMP should stop using tasers.

We have to agree.

Too many people have died after being zapped by the powerful weapons. Many times the death is blamed on a rare condition called excited delirium.

This is what RCMP speculated happened to Robert Dziekansi. Many of us watched in horror last year as the 40-year-old from Pieszyce, Poland, died at Vancouver International Airport after being hit with a Taser by police seconds after he was approached. These images were played over and over on the nightly news as the controversy raged on and on. The man, who couldn't speak English, wandered the airport for hours before apparently becoming upset and allegedly pounded on windows and threw chairs and computer equipment.

Closer to home, while there have been no deaths here, our newspaper has reported on a court trial where an RCMP member testified to tasering a man who laughed after being hit and invited the member to do it again.

Another reporter conveyed a story of a man who was labelled a dangerous offender after a court hearing. When the man was court ordered to provide a sample of a bodily fluid to be included in the National DNA Data Bank, an RCMP member was brought in as backup in case the taser had to be used. Although the man was labelled a dangerous offender, he had sat quietly throughout his hearing and never uttered a word. The reporter questioned why it was an automatic assumption that he would react when being asked for a sample and the only way to subdue him was to use a Taser.

The answer — it was the easiest and the quickest way.

According to Wikepedia there have been 21 taser-related deaths in Canada since 2003. Zaccardelli was in his position as commissioner during this time. We wonder why he didn't question their use then. Why did he wait until after he had left the top job?

For his part Zaccardelli, now employed with Interpol, says he supported the use of the stun guns because they were another tool to be used in policing.

But have they been used too much. Have the RCMP and other policing agencies become too dependant upon them? Do they make a decision to use them too quickly? In some case, probably not. But in others, there were likely other methods that could have been used to diffuse the situation.

With so many groups and governing bodies examining the use of the stun guns, we hope they heed Zaccardelli's suggestion, even though it has come years too late.

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