RCMP weapon abuse stunning

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A video released Nov. 14 gave disturbing insight into the case of a 40-year-old Polish immigrant tasered by police at Vancouver International Airport. He was there to meet his mother, who was already living in Canada. Robert Dziekanski waited in the secure baggage area for 10 hours as his mother searched for him elsewhere.

Minutes after arriving on the scene RCMP officers tasered the man who then dropped to the floor writhing in anguish. Dziekanski shortly after. A 15-year-old Victoria resident recorded the incident on his cell phone. The video has since been posted on the Internet and viewed widely.

The events involving Dzienkanski’s last hours bring into question both the appropriateness of the officers’ reactions and the lethal possibilities of Taser use.

The National Use-of-Force Framework, stipulates that intermediate weapons—such as a Taser—are only to be used on subjects who have become “assaultive.” Dzienkanski’s behaviour may have been erratic but it was far from assaultive.

Police on the scene clearly didn’t properly assess the situation—a dangerous negligence when holding a potentially deadly weapon. Instead of an attempt to negotiate with the man, or wait for a translator, there was a swift move by the RCMP to subdue Dzienkanski however they could.

Taser use in general warrants debate. At least 18 Canadians have died after being tasered since forces began using them in 1999 and Dzienkanski’s case demonstrates that misuse of the weapon can be deadly. It’s alarming their use is so widespread among Canadian law-enforcement agencies—including their presence at Homecoming. More recently, Kingston police asked for an increase in budget in order to purchase more Tasers.

Several inquiries have been launched into the events surrounding Dzienkanski’s death. Federal Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day is expected to release his commission’s first report this week. The B.C. Attorney-General has also announced plans to investigate the matter and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police plan to review stun gun use.

These probes are essential to righting the wrong the RCMP officers committed by using a Taser in this situation, but will only be worthwhile if the outcome brings real change and accountability for all parties involved.

The keenness of police to use Tasers is alarming, and warrants real investigation. Tasers can kill people and their misuse necessitates a reassessment of who is using them and when. Dzienkanski posed no imminent harm, but his new life in Canada ended before he even left the airport.

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