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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

EDITORIAL: RCMP is right to limit stun-gun use

February 17, 2009
Waterloo Record

THE RCMP HAS -- wisely -- recognized the risks to human life involved in the use of stun guns and will now only use them on individuals who pose a clear threat to the public or the police. That policy has apparently been in place since June, but the national police force only made it public last Thursday.

The announcement comes amid the continuing inquiry into the death of Polish traveller Robert Dziekanski, who died in 2007 after an altercation with RCMP officers at the Vancouver airport.

In what was to become a widely known example of a stun gun-related death, officers said they used the device when Dziekanski -- who did not speak English -- appeared to be angry and out of control.

Initially, stun guns were seen to be a desirable alternative to having police officers draw their guns and, potentially, use lethal force. The device was intended to merely disable someone long enough to allow officers to take control of the situation.

A manufacturer of stun guns, Arizona-based Taser International Inc., insists the devices are perfectly safe when used appropriately -- which may be true.

It's uncertain how many times Canadian police officers have actually used the stun guns. Still, Amnesty International reports that 25 people have died in Canada in stun-gun related incidents, including 11 involving the RCMP.

It all comes down to being safe rather than sorry.

Very few people would disagree that if a police officer's life is threatened, or if someone else's life is threatened, then the officer must do whatever is necessary -- and that may involve the use of lethal force.

However, someone who is merely creating a disturbance or being a public nuisance, does not deserve to die at the hands of a police officer.

Even with the RCMP announcement, this issue is far from dead.

New policies will no doubt result from the inquiry into Dziekanski's death being conducted by British Columbia Attorney General John Van Dongen. And in Ottawa, Liberal and New Democrat MPs were clamouring last week to have the RCMP clarify the exact nature of a threat that would entitle an officer to use a stun gun.

Still, this is a move in the right direction.

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