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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

EDITORIAL: taser report appalling

December 17, 2008
Halifax Chronicle Herald

A YEAR AGO, Canadians were horrified by video images of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski being repeatedly Tasered and then gang-tackled by four RCMP officers at Vancouver’s international airport.

Mr. Dziekanski, disoriented and exhausted after arriving in Canada on his first-ever international flight more than 10 hours earlier, died of cardiac arrest at the scene.

Unable to speak English and with apparently no one available who could communicate with him in Polish, he had wandered the arrivals area for many hours, growing increasingly agitated as his mother, who had been expecting him, failed to appear. His mother, meanwhile, had left the airport after being told her son had not arrived on the flight.

When the Mounties arrived, they were told Mr. Dziekanski did not speak English. Nevertheless, they addressed him in English. When he threw up his hands, turned around and picked up a stapler, they zapped him five times with their Tasers. They wrestled him to the ground and one officer put his knee on his neck, restricting his air supply.

The RCMP and their quick, repeated use of the Taser in this situation were widely condemned, both in Canada and internationally. The Dziekanski shooting intensified a nationwide debate on the police use of the controversial stun guns and has led to a number of reviews and inquiries, some ongoing or not yet started, on what happened.

But if someone similar to Robert Dziekanski stepped off a flight at Vancouver’s international airport tomorrow, the same thing could happen to them.

On Friday, the B.C. Attorney General’s report on the Dziekanski incident found criminal charges were not warranted against the officers involved. Given the loose nature of the RCMP’s Taser policy, that’s not surprising. But the report went further, calling the Mounties’ actions – which included five Taserings and the aggressive physical restraint of Mr. Dziekanski – "reasonable and necessary."

The RCMP were quick to say they’ve made changes to their Taser use rules since the event. But they also admitted those new rules would not have made any difference in the officers’ actions on the day that Mr. Dziekanski died.

Police forces in Canada continue to seem to be in denial about the public’s well-grounded concerns about police use of Tasers.

The RCMP and the office of the B.C. Attorney General are dangerously out of touch. If their rules say that what happened was OK, then their rules need to be changed, before another innocent person dies at police hands.

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