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Saturday, March 28, 2009

EDITORIAL: Broken RCMP needs overhaul

March 28, 2009
Calgary Herald

W hen William Elliott was appointed RCMP commissioner in 2007, the challenges ahead were monumental.It fell to Elliott, a career civil servant, to rebuild the tattered remains of our once-proud national police force, and restore public trust in an institution that had badly fallen into disrepute. The 24,000-member force was "horribly broken," according to an independent review at the time.

Less than two years later, the force is even worse off, and Elliott has failed to deliver. He needs to step aside --or be fired--so someone more effective and trustworthy can again try to restore accountability, transparency and integrity to our damaged Mounties.

Elliott has proven he's as much out of touch as was his predecessor, Giuliano Zaccardelli. Canadians are rightly outraged by the persistent culture of arrogance, overzealous policing and coverups that have for too long been the norm.

As the public responds with shock and horror to the testimony of four officers involved in the fatal Tasering of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, Elliott is crying for understanding. The head Mountie had the nerve to suggest Canadians not "jump to conclusions" or engage in "knee jerk" reactions and instead recognize the pressures of policing.

The public understands full well when it hears testimony that's riddled with untruths. Thanks to an amateur video of Dziekanski's confrontation with police at the Vancouver International Airport, the public knows what happened.

The video contradicts all four officers' earlier statements and clearly shows Dziekanski did not need to be Tasered five times to be brought under control.He was being Tasered even while already on the floor, moaning in pain. He was no threat to anyone, never mind to the four healthy RCMP officers who carried guns and wore body armour.

Elliott's defence of his officers at all costs is evidence of the "knee jerk" conclusion he warned against. Between the disgraceful revelations at the judicial inquiry, and a CBC News report this week showing that RCMP Taser standards have in fact weakened under Elliott's watch even though he told a parliamentary committee he would toughen them, it's clear a number of outcomes must occur if the force is to regain its former stature.

-Amoratorium on the use of Tasers. A parliamentary committee threatened to do just that if the RCMP didn't bring in "clear restrictions"on officers discharging the stun guns multiple times.

A CBC investigation contradicts Elliott's testimony before the committee last month, when the commissioner said steps had been taken to restrict the use of Tasers.

However, as the CBC report shows, the RCMP has done the opposite--removing two key lines from its use-of-force policy that actually weakens the guidelines.The first guide-line limited use of the Taser to one shot, and no more than 20 seconds at a time.The second required officers to warn their suspects before deploying the electrical current.

The safety of stun guns is much disputed, with police and the main manufacturer arguing no direct link between Tasers and death has been established.

But until there are enough deaths by Tasers to be studied, that link can't be made. New independent research, though, has already shown the chance of death rises each additional time the weapon is deployed.

-Thehomicide investigation into the four officers' actions must be reopened.Clearly, the four manufactured a version of events that bears no resemblance to reality.

Dziekanski was lost and confused at the airport. No one tried to help him. The officers shot first and asked questions later. They need to be held accountable before the law for their reckless actions that clearly fall well below the accepted standard of practice for RCMP, never mind human beings.

-An independent body of civilians is needed to investigate homicides involving police. It's obvious that police investigating themselves isn't working. There have been too many coverups, and the public has lost trust.

-A new commissioner is needed. Elliott has to go. He has lost credibility and can no longer lead this troubled organization back to health.

The iconic tradition of Canada's Mounties dates back to May 23, 1873.The red serge of their uniforms has come to represent honour, order and a proud past. But red is also the colour of shame. Without drastic change, that will be the sad legacy of this once meaningful organization.


Kate said...

I rescind an earlier comment that said Elliot had done something credible in admitting that tasers can kill vulnerable people. Apparently there are even fewer rules on his watch.

Kate said...

I rescind an earlier comment that gave Elliot credit for admitting that tasers can kill vulnerable people. This is true and useful, but apparently the rules of use have been weakened on his watch.