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Thursday, December 10, 2009

EDITORIAL: The RCMP's 'defining moment'

December 10, 2009
Edmonton Journal

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are dismissing the man who headed their complaints commission.

Now there's a thankless job.

Paul Kennedy, whose four-year contract as the chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP expires at the end of the year, wanted more oversight powers. What he got was a pink slip.

Fortunately for all Canadians, he opted not to go quietly into the night.

His scathing report on the Taser death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport criticized not just the police officers, but the culture of the once revered Mounties.

He used a press conference in Vancouver Tuesday to blast the RCMP for its notoriously self-destructive refusal to change, calling it a "massively inert" organization. He said how it responds to his report and the pending report of a provincial inquiry into the Tasering incident will have a profound impact on how the iconic institution is viewed by Canadians.

He suggested its once pristine reputation has been sullied internationally since the actions of the four Mounties on Oct. 14, 2007, caught on video by another passenger, went "viral" on the Internet and have now been witnessed around the world.

Kennedy says this is a defining moment in RCMP history.

It certainly could be in light of the timing, with the world coming to Vancouver's door through the portal of the airport where the tragedy occurred.

He criticized the Mounties for not attempting to communicate with the 40-year-old Dziekanski when he was confronted after throwing around luggage at the airport, for not trying to calm him down, or even warn him that he would be Tasered. Kennedy said the four officers, three of whom had two years or less experience on the force, "failed to adopt a measured, co-ordinated and appropriate response." He rejected the notion that a man armed with a stapler required the level of force that was used.

Dziekanski was Tasered five times in 31 seconds. He suffered a heart attack and died while lying handcuffed on the airport terminal floor.

Kennedy also slammed the credibility of the officers, saying their version of events was not credible when compared to the video. He complained that the officers never should have been permitted to meet alone at the airport RCMP office following the incident.

But the complaints commission chairman saved a few salvos for his boss, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott.

Kennedy rejected Elliott's decision not to respond to his report until after former judge Thomas Braidwood delivers his final report from the provincial inquiry. He says there is no excuse for delay and not addressing the issue now may allow the officers to escape discipline.

It is D-Day for the Mounties. It's time to act decisively. And other police services had better be paying attention as well.

Canadians are running out of patience. Just ask any member of the public if they think police are abusing the use of Tasers. And consider this: If, instead of firing their Tasers when they have, police officers used their batons to whack a suspect, wouldn't they soon be up on charges of excessive use of force?

The Taser is touted as a device that can save lives by providing an option to the use of deadly force, but instead it has been employed too often as a cattle prod.

That has to stop now.

The RCMP must lead the way with significant reforms that save lives and restore public confidence.

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