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Friday, December 12, 2008

Vancouver Mayor considers calling for moratorium on taser use

December 12, 2008
Catherine Rolfsen, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - Mayor Gregor Robertson said Thursday he is considering calling for a moratorium on the use of Tasers by Vancouver police. His comment came the same day that CTV BC reported that three RCMP officers involved in the Tasering of Robert Dziekanski will not be charged. B.C.'s criminal justice branch is expected to make the announcement at a news conference today.

However, RCMP Cpl. Dale Carr of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said Thursday he wasn't aware of what conclusion the Crown had reached on the case.

Robertson's statement about Taser use potentially pits him against Vancouver's police chief and the president of the police union, who both say the weapon is a valuable tool. "I am concerned about Taser use, and I am looking at calling for a moratorium," Robertson told The Vancouver Sun in an e-mail interview.

Robertson, who as mayor is also the chair of the Vancouver police board, said he'll wait for a planned public presentation from the Vancouver police department on Tasers at a January police board meeting before he makes a decision. "I'm also very interested in hearing the recommendations from the Braidwood Commission," he said, referring to the inquiry by retired judge Thomas Braidwood into the use of the weapon and the death of Dziekanski last year at Vancouver International Airport shortly after he was Tasered by RCMP officers.

During his election campaign, Robertson called for a moratorium on Taser use until the weapon can be proven safe.

His remarks Thursday come amidst news the Vancouver police department has pulled more than a third of its Tasers after a media report that one model of the devices generated a higher voltage than the manufacturer's specifications.

Robertson's suggestion of a moratorium wasn't well-received by the president of the Vancouver Police Union. "As far as I'm aware, he hasn't been involved in policing in any significant way," said Tom Stamatakis. "I think he needs to be a little bit more measured in the positions he takes and wait until he fully understands all of the issues surrounding the Taser before he would take a position like that." Stamatakis said the weapon is a "vital tool" that every police officer should have, given the right training.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu also said the Taser is an important piece in the police arsenal. "[It] helps the safety of the public, it increases the level of safety for the subjects, bystanders as well as police officers," he said.

In a submission to the Braidwood inquiry this spring, Chu said Vancouver police deployed Tasers 100 times in 2007, although about 25,000 people are arrested each year. "We will always be looking at information that arises, and when that information arises, we will examine it, have our experts study it and if that requires us to change some deployment policies then we will do that," Chu said.

Chu said it's unclear whether Robertson even has a say over a potential moratorium. It depends on whether the use of Tasers is determined to be a matter of policy or governance - in which case it is under the police board's jurisdiction - or an operational issue, which is dealt with by the police chief, Chu said. Even if the issue is determined to be under the board's authority, Robertson's powers are limited to persuasion or one vote in the event of a split decision.

Earlier this week, Solicitor-General John van Dongen ordered B.C.'s municipal police forces to pull all Tasers acquired before Jan. 1, 2006 out of service, following a CBC/Radio Canada investigation that revealed some older Tasers generated electrical currents that were more powerful than indicated by the manufacturer.

He also called for provincial standards for testing the weapons.

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