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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Alberta powers up new stun-gun guidelines

July 28, 2009
By Darcy Henton, Edmonton Journal

Alberta's Solicitor General is expected to amend provincial Taser guidelines later this week, but an official says the changes are not in response to recommendations from British Columbia's inquiry into a controversial Taser related death involving RCMP.

Department spokeswoman Michelle Davio said Monday the rules governing when police in Alberta can deploy the devices and rules regarding training of officers and testing of the devices are being changed as a result of an internal review that began in December 2008.

"We have been reviewing our guidelines for a few months and we expect to have new ones coming out later this week," she said.

Davio said the department is also studying the 19 recommendations of the first phase of the B. C. inquiry--which came out last week--but doesn't expect to have to make major changes to address the issues raised by inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood.

"It would appear our guidelines meet or exceed what is in Braidwood," she said.

That comes as a surprise to city lawyer Tom Engel, who said the current Alberta regulations don't even appear to be legal.

He noted that Braidwood recommended restricting the use of Tasers to situations in which a suspect is causing someone bodily harm or about to cause someone bodily harm, which would conform to the Criminal Code of Canada. But Engel said the Alberta rules allow police to deploy the Taser on someone who is threatening to resist arrest or resisting arrest merely by hanging onto a stationary object or pulling away from a police officer.

"In my view, their policy is illegal," he said. "It's counselling officers to break the law. It's telling them they can use the Taser without any regard to whether serious pain will be caused if they don't use it. That's what British Columbia is saying: You can't use this Taser unless it is necessary to prevent serious harm."

The Edmonton police force Taser instructor Const. Joe Tassone said he teaches recruits to deploy the device only when it can be justified under Section 25 of the Criminal code, which allows police officers to employ reasonable force.

"The bottom line is when we use that weapon system we want to make sure it's within the parameters of the law," he said.

B. C. launched the inquiry into police Taser use in February 2008 following the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died within minutes of being shocked by RCMP in October 2007 at the Vancouver airport.

RCMP in Alberta have said they don't intend to make any immediate changes in their Taser practices as a result of Braidwood's recommendations.

Police psychologist Michael Webster, who testified at the inquiry, doesn't think all the recommendations will be implemented.

"I am quite certain they won't be implemented, and when they are not it will be yet another demonstration of how ineffective our model of policing is. We have this federal police force that answers to Ottawa and municipal police forces that answer to their own police commissions."

He said there should have been a moratorium on Taser use until studies determine whether in fact they do kill people. Without a moratorium, Webster is convinced Taser use will continue with few restrictions.

"The community will get complacent. They will go back to sleep and this research that's required won't take place. There won't be any urgency to get any good solid data."

He said the RCMP lost credibility as a result of the Taser incident at the Vancouver airport, and if the national police force was smart, it would take the lead on the issue and curtail the use of the devices on its own.

"This force, the RCMP, is at a crossroads in its relationship with the Canadian public," he said. "It needs to be reinvented to get the faith and trust of the Canadian public restored in it again. If they took the bull by the horns and said they are declaring a moratorium, they could do that, but it will never happen."

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