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Thursday, July 30, 2009

EDITORIAL: Braidwood means a whole new start

July 30, 2009
Globe and Mail

Everything known about tasers – everything the provinces and police forces think they know – should now be treated as junk. Canada has a state-of-the-art manual that says the taser can kill, and its use by police forces needs to be severely limited. But have the provinces noticed? The silence of most of them on last week's 556-page Braidwood report has been, well, stunning.

Among the most egregious and most influential pieces of junk is the “research” report of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police on the supposed safety of the taser, notwithstanding the 25 people who have died in this country, and 300 in the United States, after being tasered. That report can now be tossed in the garbage bin where it belongs. The chiefs, who were hardly impartial anyway, undermined any claim to independence by accepting roughly $100,000 in sponsorship money from the taser's manufacturer. The chiefs' report contributed to the prevailing view among police in this country that people don't die from tasers, they die from excited delirium: overheating.

Thomas Braidwood, a retired appeal court judge in British Columbia, after a public inquiry, has dismissed that as plain wrong. Mr. Braidwood looked at the best evidence, and heard from experts in a variety of fields: emergency medicine, cardiology, electrophysiology, pathology, epidemiology, psychology and psychiatry. Unlike the Canadian police chiefs, he had both eyes open when he reviewed the evidence. He was impartial.

Police guidelines in much of Canada allow for tasers to be used at very low levels of threat – even, in some jurisdictions, when people who are not dangerous are merely walking away from an officer (even a Vancouver transit officer). Mr. Braidwood would limit their use to truly dangerous, though not life-threatening situations. If the provinces follow B.C.'s lead and accept his ideas, they would develop uniform policies, rather than leaving matters in the hands of local forces. They would insist that, where mentally ill people are involved, the police try first, where possible, to de-escalate. Any officer with a taser would also have a defibrillator. Tasers should be used for only one five-second cycle, not several.

The Braidwood recommendations should also be embraced by the RCMP. The national police force appears to have accepted them for its B.C. detachments, but has yet to say whether it does for the rest of the country. RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, unlike the police chiefs, had already publicly conceded that tasers can kill, but Mr. Braidwood said his policy revisions did not go far enough.

It would be unconscionable if most provinces sat on their hands and pretended Mr. Braidwood's report is relevant only to B.C. The truths he uncovered apply everywhere, even if his jurisdiction was limited to B.C. If the taser can kill in B.C., it can kill in New Brunswick or Ontario. Its use should be drastically curtailed, everywhere.

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