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Sunday, July 26, 2009

EDITORIAL: Taser guidelines: Adopt B.C. blueprint

July 26, 2009
The Chronicle Herald

IT ISN’T the first report on Taser use and abuse, and it won’t be the last. But retired B.C. judge Thomas Braidwood’s 546-page tome on the sub­ject deserves to be adopted as the gold standard for law enforcement and policy makers nationwide.

Mr. Braidwood has become a fixture in the na­tional news firmament as he presides over the in­quiry into Canada’s most infamous Tasering fiasco — the videotaped confrontation that led to the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport in 2007. Part 1 of his analysis, Restoring Public Confidence: Restricting the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons, was released last week. The second phase of the inquiry, focusing on the circumstances of Mr. Dziekanski’s demise, has been adjourned until late September.

In his report, Mr. Braidwood finds no shortage of actors to upbraid. In a stinging rebuke to Taser International Inc., he asserts that Tasers can in­deed kill — a reasonable conclusion, given the stun gun’s track record, that is still firmly rejected by the weapon’s manufacturer.

Mr. Braidwood also finds fault with the B.C. gov­ernment for adopting Tasers without independ­ently testing them first and for the lack of uniform standards governing their use. But, significantly, he does not advocate shelving them. We agree with this view: Overall, Tasers can do more good than harm if they are deployed with restraint.

On that score, Mr. Braidwood sets an eminently sensible threshold that the stun gun use should be confined to violations of criminal law, not provin­cial or municipal statutes. Furthermore, offering “active resistance" to a police officer — running away or mouthing off — should not be considered a Taserable offence. But if a subject is inflicting or threatening bodily harm, then Tasering is justified. Uniform standards and clear rules of engagement should help eliminate the use of the Taser as an easy compliance tool and prevent outrageous acts such as the Amherst police subduing an obstrep­erous diabetic last year over the objections of para­medics who had called for assistance.

Also of particular relevance to Nova Scotians following the inquiry into the death of schizophren­ic Howard Hyde in Halifax police custody, was the warning that Tasering “an emotionally disturbed person is, in most cases, the worst possible re­sponse."

For police officers who have been issued a Taser, it does makes sense to have a defibrillator handy too, although this could be an expensive proposi­tion. In all, there are 19 recommendations in the report, which B.C. has pledged to immediately adopt. The findings should also be embraced by every other jurisdiction and the RCMP, which, in fairness has tightened its Taser-use protocols.

Certainly, Nova Scotia need look no further than the Braidwood report for inspiration to establish its own provincewide guidelines.

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