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Friday, December 11, 2009

Tasers should be banned: STU prof

Criminology professor Michael Boudreau says recent events should set off alarm bells for law enforcement

FREDERICTON - The writing may be on the wall for taser use in Canada, says a criminology professor at St. Thomas University.

Michael Boudreau said if the findings of The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, which examined the use of an RCMP taser against Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport in 2007, doesn't lead to the abandonment of the weapon, then it's here to stay.

"It (the writing) should have been on the wall a long time ago," Boudreau said yesterday. "If these two incidents don't lead to the abolition of tasers then, unfortunately, nothing will."

Earlier this week, chairman Paul Kennedy released the commission's report into the circumstances of Dziekanski's death.

The findings criticized practically all aspects of the RCMP officers' response to Dziekanski, who was extremely agitated at the time, as well as their actions afterwards.

The report found that the force's use of a taser against the Polish immigrant was "inappropriate" and the explanations of the four officers involved were not credible.

RCMP were called to the airport after the non-English speaking Dziekanski, who had arrived from Poland nearly 10 hours earlier, began throwing furniture in the international arrivals area. He died after being stunned five times with the taser weapon.

Boudreau said Kennedy's report, combined with another from taser International, which warned police not to fire the weapon at the chest area, should set off the alarm bells needed for final action.

"It highlights that tasers are not an effective weapon for defusing a situation," he said. "I think he made that quite plain and quite clear in his report. Even though he did not necessarily call for it -- (but) if you read between the lines -- it's time to stop using the tasers across the board, whether it's RCMP or local forces. They have just proved to be a very unreliable and dangerous weapon."

But Tim Quigley, a former assistant commissioner with J Division RCMP in Fredericton, disagrees.

He believes tasers can still be an effective tool when it comes to police work.

"It is clearly something that has to be heavily regulated and there has got to be strict policies," Quigley said. "When used properly they can be an alternative to lethal force, like firearms."

The former assistant commissioner said there is always a possibility of overreacting, such as doing too much or going too far, but that does not mean there is no place for tasers in police work.

"There have been some terrible incidents, some tragedies but they've been used successfully and appropriately used and, I think, to a positive end, in thousands and thousands of cases," Quigley said. "I think it is important to focus on that, as well."

Roy Berlinquette, another former assistant commissioner at J Division said he believes there is still room for the taser in a police officer's tool kit.

But, he cautioned, there has to be controls and proper training for those who use it.

"You give someone a loaded revolver, you got to make sure that they're trained to use it and they have to be accountable for its use," he said. "It's got to be used responsibly."

* With files from Canadian Press.

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