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Monday, May 03, 2010

Taser can challenge B.C. inquiry report

May 3, 2010
The Canadian Press

Taser International can proceed with its legal challenge of a British Columbia public inquiry report that was prompted by the death of Robert Dziekanski, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Monday.

The B.C. government wanted the challenge dismissed. But Judge Robert Sewell found the attorney general failed to prove that the Arizona-based company's petition asking the court to throw out the report and all of its recommendations would surely fail or that it had no right to judicial review.

"In this case, it seems to me that the report and recommendations of the study commission could have important commercial implications for the petitioner," the judge wrote, noting that he was not saying that it does or does not — just that it could.

Taser, which makes stun guns, launched a legal challenge last year after commissioner Thomas Braidwood released a report concluding that shock weapons pose a risk of serious injury or death. Braidwood set out recommendations for their use, including a caution against multiple stuns.

The report followed the first phase of a public inquiry prompted by Dziekanski's 2007 death.

Sewell noted Taser's allegations — that the report findings are not based on the evidence presented — have not been tested in court.

His ruling means they will be, with a court hearing expected in July.

But the judge also rapped Taser for "unnecessary, scandalous and vexatious" allegations of bias against inquiry commission lawyer Art Vertlieb and Dr. Keith Chambers, a physician who helped the commissioner interpret much of the medical information submitted as evidence.

Sewell called the allegations against the two men "an abuse of process" and dismissed the company's petition for a declaration against them.

"I conclude that the allegations here are motivated at least in part by a desire to embarrass Mr. Vertlieb and Dr. Chambers," the judge wrote.

Taser has a history of aggressive legal action to defend its products and last year boasted that it had won its 100th dismissal of a liability lawsuit.

A lawyer for the company, David Neave, simply said the challenge will continue.

"We'll be proceeding with respect to the hearing on the report itself in July, and we'll see what the court has to say," Neave said in an interview.

"Taser does not believe that the basic Canadian principles of fairness were followed with respect to the manner in which the conclusions were arrived at in the report."

Both the B.C. Solicitor General and the RCMP endorsed the inquiry recommendations, which have already been implemented in the province.

The public inquiry was prompted by Dziekanski's death in October 2007 after a confrontation with RCMP.

Police were summoned after an agitated Dziekanski began throwing furniture around. He was then jolted several times with a stun gun.

The would-be migrant from Poland died on the floor of the airport in front of stunned witnesses.

The first phase of the inquiry looked at the use of shock weapons in general by law enforcement agencies in B.C.

The second phase of the inquiry, which wrapped up last fall, looked specifically into Dziekanski's death. The report from that phase hasn't been released but is expected to be out by this summer.

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