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Monday, November 24, 2008

Sask. Police Commission appoints four new members

November 24, 2008
James Wood, TheStarPhoenix.com

REGINA - With almost completely new membership, the Saskatchewan Police Commission will likely soon look again at the use of Tasers by municipal police forces.

The Saskatchewan Party cabinet has appointed four new members to fill expired positions on the five-person commission, which regulates municipal police forces in Saskatchewan.

Among the new appointees is Prince Albert lawyer Mitch Holash, who replaces Regina lawyer Michael Tochor as the chair.

In July, the commission announced it would not authorize the general use of Tasers by members of the province's 14 municipal and First Nation police services until more information is available, reversing an earlier decision to allow the devices.

"It is in the process of being visited as we speak," Holash said in an interview Monday.

"I think the commission was having some research undertaken in that regard and that my understanding generally is that one of the responsibilities on this board's plate when we meet will be to look at some information that has come forward through that process.

"I certainly know it will be on our early agendas as a new board. As to what we do with it and to the status of it, we'll be apprised when we meet."

In an order-in-council, cabinet also appointed Catherine Sloan and Neil Caldwell of Saskatoon and Patricia Crowe of Prince Albert to the commission. Paul Korpan of Regina is the sole holdover from the board and will serve as vice-chair. Holash said the new commission is likely to meet in two or three weeks.

Another item the commission is likely to look at is the recent spate of police shootings in Saskatchewan. Most of those involve the RCMP, which is not under the commission's jurisdiction, but there were also two high-profile shootings by Saskatoon police last December, one that saw a woman wounded by police and another that saw the death of Dwayne Charles Dustyhorn, which is not specifically mentioned in the report.

As well, P.A. police shot and killed Jackie Montgrand in March of this year. In all cases the victims reportedly had weapons they refused to drop.

Holash said as with the Taser issue, the new commissioners will inherit valuable work that has already been commenced by the commission. "Certainly, that particular type of issue falls squarely within what The Police Act mandates us to consider . . . it'll be on our plate," he said.

Among the duties of the commission are setting the standards for municipal police, programming of the Saskatchewan Police College, promoting the preservation of peace and crime prevention, improving relations between the police and public and serving as the final body of appeal in disciplinary and dismissal matters involving officers.

Holash has represented police officers, police services - including Saskatoon's - and the public in police-related matters.

Among the recent cases Holash handled for Saskatoon police was fighting the appeal of two former constables fired following the Neil Stonechild inquiry.

Corrections, Public Safety and Policing Minister Darryl Hickie - a Prince Albert police officer and MLA who describes himself as an acquaintance of Holash - said the lawyer's familiarity with police issues made him the ideal choice for the position.

Hickie said there was no discussion of the Taser issue with the new board members before they were appointed and any decision to revisit the issue will be at the commission's discretion.

Tochor said in July the commission would await the results of the inquest into the Taser-related death in Vancouver of Polish citizen Robert Dziekanski in October 2007 and other reviews.

"Right now, I know everyone's in the holding pattern across Canada waiting to see what those inquests will tell us," said Hickie.

The other departing members of the commission are Edward Henderson, Betty McKenna and Karen Prisciak.

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