On Alberta's new taser regulations

by Mark Zaugg 1. August 2009 16:00

Well, the Braidwood inquiry is starting to seed some results. 

And it's great to see Alberta leading the way.  Well, except for B.C. who jumped on this last week.  But Alberta is still on the leading edge of the front line of the first responders to this terrible and tragic situation, right? 

What a crock and I'm sickened by the doublespeak over this.  This is far too little of a response which comes far too late in time.  This is policy which should have been set in stone before the first zap of a taser was ever permitted in this province.  Yet again, we have a vacuum of leadership which will sing and dance pandering for the "Get tough on crime" vote, but blinds itself to the consequences of it's own rhetoric.

My opinion on the scenario has been set in stone for a while now.  We had four cowboys in Vancouver going off on a rampage to use the new toy they were trained in.  They need to be held accountable for their actions, and their own accountability varies amoungst the four.  It should not be the all or nothing deal on charging the officers as it has appeared to be when the decision to not lay charges was originally made. 

Yes, I believe tasers are less lethal than a firearm.  I am immeasurably happy that Justice Braidwood has said that tasers can cause heart failure and thus has quashed the nonsense that tasers are non-lethal in and of themselves.  They can cause death and they must be used responsibly.  Taser International be damned, these are weapons first and foremost and like all weapons can have lethal consequences.

I do not believe in a moratorium on taser use, but I do believe that the police have used them carelessly and to the point of recklessness.  There is absolutely no justification for transit cops using a taser on fare jumpers.  There is absolutely no justification for repeated use of tasers on people held in custody.  What happened to Robert Dziekanski was criminal. 

What needs to be recognized today by each and every person in Canada is that this is a massively significant decision that impacts literally every one of us. 

You can be pulled over by a cop for no reason at any time.  Any person can be arrested and charged at a whim of suspicion.  If you get arrested for breaking into your own house, you're probably not going to be invited to 24 Suffex Drive for a beer.  If you are stopped, you are wholly and completely reliant upon the arresting officer's scruples, judgment, ethics and mood. 

The standard of "active resistance" has been clearly abused in the Dziekanski case (and others) and is not an acceptable standard for using what could potentially be a lethal weapon.  Let's get this back to the average Canadian.  Ever been pulled over for a traffic violation, say running a stop sign?  Didn't pull over fast enough for the cop's satisfaction?  He can call that active resistance and whip out a taser.  Oh, but that's ridiculous!  No cop would ever do that, right?

How about throwing a laptop and a small table?  Is that active resistance enough for you?  How about holding a stapler in a threatening manner? 

The second part to this is that the cops are going to have to submit reports back to the province about when tasers were used.  These reports are essential and should be part of the public record - how were these not collated before?  Situations where tasers have been used need to be analyzed so we can actually determine when and how the police are using (and abusing) these weapons.  There needs to be a public accountability how tasers have been used, instead of just the standard response (to date) of brushing it under the carpet and blaming "excited delirium." 

Back to the average Canadian again.  If you refuse to drop a knife and start swinging it at a cop, I think we'd all agree that's pretty clear case of potentially causing bodily harm.  Swinging a stapler?  No.  But in a real situation, the cop may still whip out the taser and blast away.  It's after the fact, in the analysis of the report, where we can start holding that cop accountable.  "I thought it was a butterfly knife and when he didn't drop it I hit him with a taser and discovered it was a pair of childrens scissors."  Look, mistakes happen, but we can at least start asking the question:  Why are we hiring cops that can't tell the difference between a knife and children's scissors?  Are those the people we want trying to protect us?

The third part, and we can thank the CBC for going through the effort of checking, is that the tasers themselves have to be tested to ensure they function within operating guidelines.  Many have already proven to be malfunctioning.  Once again, Taser International be damned for declaring the tests faulty.  Stop bitching about the tests and contribute to make them more valid.  Clearly some of the units have had problems.  Whinging about the testing process doesn't invalidate the results.  Accept the lumps and start fixing the problems.  You'll look a lot less like whingey jerks.

This inquiry is about much more than Robert Dziekanski.  This inquiry is about how the police can treat you and me.  This is about what threshold of danger that has to exist before they can start pulling out weapons of various lethality.  This is to ensure that as little force is used as absolutely necessary, with the least amount of risk to our persons.  This is about holding that arresting officer's scruples, judgment, ethics and mood to the light after the fact so we can keep the police responsive to us, the people they are charged to serve and protect. 

It's not just a buzz phrase.  It's their responsibility.

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