July 23, 2009
By Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun
The B.C. government accepts all of retired judge Thomas Braidwood's recommendations on Taser use and will immediately start implementing them, Solicitor-General Kash Heed said Thursday.
The most important recommendation in Braidwood's inquiry report into Taser use was that the threshold for police using a Taser should be raised. Instead of being allowed to use them when a suspect shows "active resistance," there will have to be a threat of the suspect inflicting "bodily harm."
"Action will begin immediately implementing commissioner Braidwood's recommendations," Heed told a news conference.
Asked if he expected the RCMP to comply, he said: "I am confident that every police officer in the province will follow my directive, regardless of the colour of their uniform."
Heed said his directive was delivered to the head of the RCMP. "I expect it to be followed," he said.
Minutes later, the RCMP said it welcomed Braidwood's report, but had no immediate response to its recommendations and said it would review them.
"At this point, it's too early to respond yes or no," RCMP spokesman Sgt. Tim Shields said.
"We need to review the recommendations in detail."
Two federal politicians, NDP public safety critic Don Davies and Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, called on the RCMP to implement the recommendations immediately.
"The federal government has been missing in action on this issue and they need to provide national standards" on Taser use, Dosanjh said.
Don Rosenbloom, the lawyer representing Poland at the Braidwood inquiry, said Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died after he was Tasered at Vancouver International Airport by RCMP officers, would be alive today if Braidwood's recommendations had been in place.
Braidwood's 546-page report, titled Restoring Public Confidence: Restricting the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons in British Columbia, made 19 recommendations.
He recommended municipal police should use the weapon only when faced with an imminent threat of bodily harm or when someone is committing an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.
He said a person should not be zapped with the stun gun if the are breaking municipal bylaws or provincial offences such as transit fare evasion.
"In my view, that was much too low a threshold," Braidwood told reporters.
"It would embarrass me as a Canadian to watch a police officer deploy this weapon against a subject, even one under investigation for a criminal offence, for merely walking or running away from an officer."
He said a conducted-energy weapon — a Taser gun — must not be deployed unless an officer is satisfied that de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques won't work.
"All police recruits and all current officers should receive crisis intervention training," Braidwood recommended.
He said police officers must use de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques when dealing with an emotionally disturbed person.
He said his terms of reference prevented him from making any recommendations regarding the RCMP, because they are a federally regulated force.
But he said he found that ironic, since the impetus for the inquiry was the death of Dziekanski, who died in October 2007 after he was Taser five times, restrained and handcuffed by four Mounties.
Braidwood told reporters it would be incongruous if his recommendations were not applied across B.C., considering that 70 per cent of B.C. communities are policed by the RCMP.
For that reason, he said the B.C. government should make RCMP compliance with his recommendations a condition of renewing the province's RCMP policing contracts in 2012.
Braidwood said he didn't believe a moratorium on the use of the weapons was necessary, and that he was convinced Tasers are less lethal than firearms.
"The police have a very difficult task out there on the street," Braidwood said.
He said one of his inquiry's most troubling discoveries was that there were no province-wide standards on Taser use and training, leaving it to each police department to set policies.
He bluntly criticized the provincial government for "abdicating its responsibility to establish province-wide standards for the use of Tasers."
He pointed out B.C had approved the use of Tasers without any independent testing, instead relying on the manufacturer's assurances that the weapon was safe.
B.C. was the first province to approve the use of Tasers in 1999. By 2007, there about 230 weapons in use that had been deployed 1,400 times, although Braidwood said he found significant under-reporting and actual usage could have been twice as high.
There have been about eight Taser-related deaths in B.C., 20 across Canada and 300 in the U.S., Braidwood said.
"There has been much controversy about whether the weapon caused or contributed to those deaths," he said.
Braidwood also recommended that officers be prohibited from deploying a Taser beyond the initial five-second cycle, unless a subject is still posing a risk of causing bodily harm.
The report on the second phase of his inquiry, probing the in-custody death of Dziekanski, is still to be written. That part of the inquiry resumes Sept. 22.
Braidwood pointed out that police do a lot of good work and "the most important weapon in the arsenal of any police department is public support."
Taser International, the manufacturer of the stun gun, issued a statement that said: "It appears that politics has trumped science in the commission." The U.S. company said medical research "has consistently demonstrated that Taser devices are safe and effective when used properly."
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
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July 23, 2009