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Saturday, July 25, 2009

EDITORIAL: RCMP and Taser rules

July 25, 2009
Times Colonist

Former justice Thomas Braidwood found an excellent balance in his recommendations restricting the use of Tasers by B.C. police officers. The weapons have a role in police arsenals, but their potential deadliness means higher standards for their use are needed.

Braidwood's report bridges that divide in a very reasonable manner.

The province's response to the recommendations, however, shows a decidedly two-faced approach. It made no acknowledgment of Braidwood's pointed criticism that the government has until now been "abdicating its responsibility to establish province-wide standards for the use of Tasers."

And Solicitor General Kash Heed's blanket pronouncement that "every police officer in the province" will follow his directive to adopt the recommendations ignores the reality that, as a federal force, the RCMP is under no obligation to do so.

Braidwood's report is part of an inquiry into the high-profile death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after being shocked with a Taser at Vancouver International Airport in October 2007.

In his recommendations, Braidwood called for "the threshold for use" for Tasers to be "significantly revised." Active resistance -- which could include running from an officer -- should not trigger Taser use. There must be an imminent risk of bodily harm.

"In my view, it is the province's responsibility to set the rules about conducted energy weapon use and officer training," Braidwood said, noting that individual police departments have developed a "patchwork quilt of inconsistent policies." Braidwood also found significant evidence of police under-reporting of Taser use in B.C.

Heed said he accepted the recommendations. But his response to questions on whether the RCMP will also adopt the recommendations was facile and ignored the province's inability to compel the federal force to do so.

"I am confident they will follow it," he told reporters. "I expect them to follow it."

But senior RCMP officers have said only that they will consider the recommendations. And since 70 per cent of British Columbians live in areas policed by the RCMP, and the Mounties have deployed Tasers in the province more times than every municipal force combined, this is no small concern.

Braidwood's recommendations anticipate possible RCMP reluctance. If the force refuses to accept the provincial standard for Taser use, he said, then the government should make compliance a condition for renewing the RCMP's policing contract, which expires in 2012.

Creating a provincial police force would be difficult. But if the RCMP is not willing to accept the principles of accountability and oversight by elected representatives, especially on something like the use of potentially deadly force, it is a step B.C. must be prepared to take.

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