December 15, 2008
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER, B.C. — The RCMP's acknowledgment that its updated Taser policies wouldn't have changed what happened to Robert Dziekanski is a sign the embattled national police force hasn't learned from the incident, says a critic of the controversial weapons.
When news broke that four officers involved in Dziekanski's death at Vancouver's airport last fall won't face criminal charges, the RCMP noted several policy changes meant to show it was taking concerns over Taser use seriously.
But the Mounties admit none of those changes - from restricting the circumstances in which Tasers can be used to improved training - would have made much difference when officers confronted a confused and disoriented Dziekanski on Oct. 14, 2007.
"That suggests the changes aren't sufficient," Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada, said in an interview Monday. "On the information that has come out, Amnesty International's position and I think most Canadians' position still is that it is unacceptable that a Taser was used in these circumstances."
The B.C. Crown said Friday that the officers' actions, while they contributed to Dziekanski's death, were reasonable.
At a news conference shortly after, RCMP officials again defended their use of Tasers and noted several policy changes in the past year, including:
-Restricting Taser use to incidents involving threats to officer or public safety.
-Annual re-certification for officers carrying Tasers.
-Testing of the Mounties' Taser arsenal.
-More detailed use-of-force reporting.
But when asked whether any of those changes would have changed what happened to Dziekanski had they been in place 14 months ago, an RCMP use-of-force expert replied simply, "No."
Dziekanski was shocked with the Taser five times in the brief encounter with police.
Neve said there must be a better understanding of the effects of multiple shocks and in what circumstances the so-called conducted energy weapons should be used. He said "threats to officers" is too vague a term, and said instead that Tasers should only be used when the only other alternative is lethal force.
"Is it really such a low threshold that someone holding a stapler is considered to pose a significant threat to the safety of four RCMP officers?" he said, referring to the fact that Dziekanski picked up a stapler seconds before he was shocked.
"We need more than a blithe assertion."
No one from the RCMP was available to comment.
The Crown's decision drew swift condemnation from critics of Taser use, the Polish government and Dziekanski's mother, Zophia Cisowski. Cisowski said she was angry about the decision, particularly the suggestion that her son was an alcoholic, and she said she was considering a potential lawsuit against the RCMP.
The Polish embassy in Ottawa released a scathing statement saying Dziekanski's death was either the result of "mistakes made by people or with faulty procedures" - and called for further policy changes, particularly when it comes to multiple shocks.
The force has faced intense scrutiny in the year since Dziekanski died - both from the public and several formal investigations - and the Crown's decision is likely to do little to quiet the debate.
There has already been several reports into Taser use, including one by the head of the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP, Paul Kennedy. Kennedy called for tighter controls on the electronic weapons, and said officers should get immediate medical attention for people they shock.
And the first part of a public inquiry in B.C. - looking at Taser use in general - wrapped up earlier this year, with a report by retired B.C. judge Thomas Braidwood due out soon.
Braidwood said he'll be making recommendations to the provincial government, not the RCMP, but he hopes the force will be listening. "If you can think of it, we've covered it, that's why it took us so long," Braidwood said in an interview. "Those recommendations will go to the RCMP and I'm sure they will consider them. And likewise, there's a contract between the provincial government and the RCMP, and perhaps it will have an impact on that, too."
The decision on charges means the second phase of the inquiry, which will examine Dziekanski's death, can go ahead with the Mounties' participation.
Last week's announcement also clears the way for a separate investigation by the RCMP's complaints commission. "And of course, we're not immune to everything that's out there, so we're seeing what's going on with Braidwood and the like," said Nelson Kalil of the complaints commission. "Now that (charges) aren't going to happen, we'll be pursuing ours as vigorously as possible."
Other investigations still to come include a coroner's inquest and a review by a member of the Ontario Provincial Police.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Monday, December 15, 2008
December 15, 2008