February 27, 2009
MICHAEL DEN TANDT, The Standard (St. Catherines)
Julian Fantino is a big man with big ambitions. For the past 40 years he has trod the thin blue line with firmness and resolve. It's time he stopped doing that. He should be -- what's the word? Fired.
The Canadian media has always had a love-hate relationship with Fantino. Mainly it's love. Why? He's brash, tough-talking and unafraid to speak his mind. Among senior public servants he stands out like a neon sign. He's Don Cherry in a much more tasteful suit.
He is also, increasingly, an embarrassment.
Does Canada have a pressing national problem with the use of Tasers by police? Not so much. Indeed, as Tom Kaye, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said in Ottawa this week, most police forces now agree about how the devices should be used.
It's simple: In cases where a suspect actively resists arrest, and it looks as though an innocent citizen or a police officer could be hurt, the Taser is a good option. In such situations it can and has saved lives, no question.
What Canadians do not wish to see (and this no doubt includes the vast majority of police officers) is cases in which suspects are tasered when they are not fighting and pose no apparent threat to anyone. That's what happened in the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dzienkanski.
As we all know he was surrounded by four Mounties at Vancouver airport in October of 2007 and tasered repeatedly. It was caught on video. There was no preamble and there were no apparent efforts to calm him with speech or body language before he was zapped. Afterwards he died. At last count there have been more than 20 similar deaths in Canada.
Proponents of the Taser, Fantino and Kaye among them, cite numerous studies -- 150 is the number they posited this week -- that prove the device has never directly caused anyone to die. There is no reason to disbelieve this. The voltage and amperage of these devices are not sufficient to kill a person.
The cases in which people have died following tasering, in other words, involved other factors -- a weak heart perhaps, a heart murmur, a stroke brought on by intense anger, fear or stress. People can die suddenly for any number of reasons, as Fantino said this week. Hit someone hard enough with your bare hand and there is a possibility their heart will stop.
But all that misses the point -- deliberately so, it seems to me. Few reasonable people would argue that Tasers should be banned outright, any more than they would argue that police should not carry firearms. It's a question of establishing clear guidelines for their use. The RCMP, in the wake of the Dzienkanski case, has done so. And so have most other Canadian police forces.
The upshot? There is no crisis. Nationwide, we're getting to a common-sense solution. But rather than acknowledge this (as Tom Kaye did Tuesday, to his credit) Fantino spent much of his national news time picking fights with and belittling anyone who dares to disagree with him.
Critics of Tasers, Fantino said, have never walked a beat and could not even pass basic police training. Gasp! Really? And is that the new standard for public criticism of the administration of justice in Canada? That we all be police officers or retired police officers?
True, a basic fitness requirement would rule out most journalists, because we tend to be reedy, unhealthy and flabby. Too much computer time. But what about everyone else? What about shopkeepers, bus drivers and gas station attendants? What about waitresses and university professors?
Is Uncle Julian going to make us all do pushups and crunches and run laps so that we may earn the right to disagree with his eminence? Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is no Charles Atlas, let's be honest. Is that why the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police regularly tells his boss which laws he should write?
Enough already. Fantino clearly loves politics. It's time he pursued that full-time.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Friday, February 27, 2009
February 27, 2009