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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No need to revisit stun-gun protocol: province

November 4, 2008
Renata D'Aliesio, Calgary Herald; with files from Canwest News Service

Alberta's top police officer says he is confident the province has some of the strictest guidelines in Canada guarding how and when Tasers are used on the public.

Solicitor General Fred Lindsay said Monday he doesn't see any need to revisit provincial Taser guidelines, introduced last December, unless independent investigations into two deaths in less than a week determine otherwise.

On Sunday, 30-year-old Gordon Walker Bowe died in a hospital after an altercation with Calgary police the day before. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is investigating, and it is still unclear whether the police stun gun actually struck Bowe.

His death comes four days after a man died in Edmonton after being stunned by police in that city. An investigation is underway to determine whether the Taser contributed to Trevor Grimolfson's death.

Lindsay called the two deaths "disturbing." "It's unfortunate that two people have died when they were being apprehended by police," he said at the legislature Monday. "We'll see what evidence comes forward in the investigation and go forward from there."

However, Liberal justice critic Kent Hehr is urging the province to act now instead of waiting. He thinks the Alberta government should undertake a comprehensive Taser review in light of these deaths. Hehr contends guidelines adopted by municipal police forces in Alberta aren't as stringent as those recommended in a report from the RCMP's watchdog.

In June, RCMP public complaints commission chairman Paul Kennedy said Mounties should limit their use of Tasers to "combative" suspects and take the weapons out of the hands of inexperienced officers.

"This is becoming a public safety concern," said Hehr, a Calgary MLA. "I realize they're an effective way for police to do policing, but we have to make sure the public is safe. I'd like to see us do our due diligence on this and it doesn't appear that we have so far."

In question period, Hehr pressed Lindsay to commit to holding a public inquiry on police Taser use, but the solicitor general didn't specifically answer the plea.

Lindsay noted a fatality inquiry will likely follow the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team investigations.

"I'm comfortable with the guidelines we have and very comfortable that the policemen we have on our street, day in and day out, do a great job and use it appropriately," Lindsay told reporters.

Meanwhile, Alberta's chief medical examiner said Monday the death of a patient in a bizarre rage, possibly a victim of what experts call "excited delirium," has nothing to do with police restraint or Tasers. Dr. Graeme Dowling told the Canadian National Committee for Police that patients in such frenzies could die without being touched or even when alone in an apartment. "To the best of our knowledge right now, it has nothing to do with the method of restraint.

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