Last updated Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
he man investigating the use of Tasers by police in B.C. has concluded that stun guns can be deadly and much tougher rules must be adopted if they are to remain an option for police.
Former B.C. Appeal Court justice Thomas Braidwood said Thursday his report "bluntly states" that the provincial government has abdicated its responsibility to establish province-wide standards for use of the electrical stun guns.
Braidwood also noted recent incidents involving Tasers have undermined public confidence in the RCMP.
"I’m hoping here that some of that will be restored, by reason of what I felt to be an exceptionally high level of research as to these recommendations and then the implementation of them," said Braidwood.
After release of the preliminary report in Vancouver, the provincial government issued a statement saying it will act immediately to adopt Braidwood’s recommendations.
Not for bylaw enforcement
Braidwood made 19 recommendations in his report to the B.C. government, including that "conducted energy weapons," or stun guns, should not be used to enforce municipal bylaws or provincial laws — but only federal criminal offences.
He also recommended that the current threshold of "active resistance to police" is too low for use of stun guns and a higher threshold should be adopted.
A police officer must believe, he said, that the subject is causing or is about to cause bodily harm and that no lesser-force option or de-escalation technique would be effective before deploying a stun gun.
He also recommended that stun guns only be used in single five-second bursts in most cases — rather than multiple bursts — citing increased medical risks associated with repeated shocks, and that paramedic assistance be requested in every medically high-risk situation.
More provincial control needed
Police forces had inappropriate reliance on the manufacturer’s training for the weapons and the province should play a greater role in training and monitoring their use, Braidwood said.
"In my view, it is the province’s responsibility to set the rules about conducted energy weapon use and officer training. It is the duty of law enforcement agencies to train their officers and deploy the weapon in accordance with those policies," he said.
Braidwood did not call for a moratorium on the use of stun guns, saying it’s important to strike a balance between the positive benefits of the weapons and their risks.
"I’ve given a lot of reasons why there should not be a moratorium. The police have a very difficult job," said Braidwood.
While he was specifically directed by the terms of the commission to exclude the RCMP from the first phase of the inquiry because the provincial government does not have jurisdiction over the force, he said his recommendations should be used as preconditions for the B.C. government entering into new policing agreements with the RCMP in 2012.
"Seventy per cent of British Columbians live in communities policed by the RCMP. If the government accepts and implements my recommendations, it would be incongruous that the recommendations not apply in most areas of the province," he said.
Inquiry called after airport death
Braidwood did not comment specifically on the death of Robert Dziekanski in the preliminary report, saying the inquiry into that matter had not yet concluded.
The two-stage inquiry, called the Braidwood Commission, was called by the B.C. government after the death of Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who was stunned with a Taser by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 13, 2007.
The second phase of the inquiry, focusing on Dziekanski’s death, will resume in September, following which Braidwood is expect to issue his second report.
Lawyer Walter Kosteckyj, acting for Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, said neither he nor his client was informed that Braidwood would release a report Thursday and did not have a chance to preview its contents. Cisowski has travelled to Poland.
"We didn’t know about it. She left last week. I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what the recommendations are," Kosteckyj said before the report was released.
"I certainly hope that they are significant and I hope they include a moratorium until the testing of the Taser is complete."
With files from The Canadian Press