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Monday, September 08, 2008

Editorial: Zaccardelli and tasers - Late Repentance

September 8, 2008
The Globe and Mail

Giuliano Zaccardelli was the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police when tasers were introduced by the force in 2001. He was commissioner during the period of 2002-2005, when it has been shown that three in every four suspects shot with a taser by the RCMP were unarmed. He was commissioner during a subsequent period when cases in which Mounties drew or threatened to draw their tasers rose dramatically from 597 incidents in 2005 to 1,400 times in 2007. So it is perhaps surprising that Mr. Zaccardelli, who resigned under a cloud over his handling of the Maher Arar affair, has now opted to go public with his concerns over tasers.

It is even more surprising that his concern is not focused on the tasers' ballooning use, or the fact that stun guns are often shot by police at unarmed people, or that people have died after they have been tasered.

In an interview with CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge, Mr. Zaccardelli said he would end the use of tasers because publicity around them has harmed the image of the police force.

Said Mr. Zaccardelli: "After all that I've thought about it, I've come more and more to the conclusion that I'm not sure that having tasers is worth the negative impact that it has on police forces in terms of public perception. I think we should stop using it." In other words, Mr. Zaccardelli appears more concerned about image than the fact that people have died after being shot with the stun guns, or because of other abuses of the tasers by police.

He told the CBC that one case during his tenure as commissioner was so abusive that he considered taking the weapon away from officers, but says he was talked out of it by a deputy commissioner. It was not that abuse, then, that finally turned him, nor was it the death of the Polish taser victim Robert Dziekanski at the hands of the RCMP at Vancouver International Airport. While every voice calling for caution on this matter is welcome, it is difficult not to see Mr. Zaccardelli's comments on the taser as unpersuasive and self-serving.

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