Past Opinion, Edition 36-December1, 2007


Edition 36 December 1, 2007
Time to ban the Taser
Casual use of shock weapon disturbing
By Thomas Terrio

Most everyone in Canada and around the world has seen the Paul Pritchard video taken at Vancouver International Airport of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski. Dziekanski was tasered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after spending almost ten hours lost in a secure area of the airport. This incident exposes serious flaws in the use of Tasers and police procedures. Recently, the RCMP gave permission to allow its officers to Taser someone twice if necessary. The Taser delivers 50,000 volts of electricity per shock.

What Pritchard’s video reveals is how the police failed to assess the situation properly. Dziekanski was no threat to anyone, least of all four armed police officers wearing body armour. There was no crime in progress and no crime had been committed. Dziekanski was not resisting. So why use the Taser? Perhaps the information relayed by airport security, seen standing outside the secure area in the video to the RCMP, made the situation appear more serious than it really was. Furthermore, how can airport security allow someone to wander around a secure area in the airport for ten hours, lost, in a post 911 world?

Once the RCMP arrives, Dziekanski appears to comply. Even though he does not understand English, when the RCMP constable points to the counter, he throws his arms up in surrender and goes to stand where the officer points. The police do not attempt to communicate with Dziekanski in any concrete way. The police form a circle in front of him and he is tasered.

Why the constables jump on Dziekanski and force him into handcuffs is still a mystery. How can he comply? And comply to what exactly, Dziekanski doesn’t understand their commands. One officer has his knee on the back of Dziekanski’s neck pushing his face into the floor. He has been shocked twice and when he does not move, his pulse is checked. Apparently Dziekanski has stopped breathing. emergency services are called, but not one of the four RCMP constables present immediately attempts to perform CPR on Dziekanski—why? It is over twelve minutes before paramedics arrive and attempt to revive him. According to local news reports, the RCMP refuses to remove Dziekanski’s handcuffs for the paramedics. But it’s too late, Robert Dziekanski is dead.

The original idea or intended purpose for allowing police to use Tasers was to give officers an alternative to the use of lethal handgun force. What is disturbing is the casual use of the Taser by police in general. The police are using the Taser in circumstances for which it was not intended. One woman in the U.S. was Tasered by police because she would not sign her traffic violation. A Kelowna senior was recently Tasered because he left in his vehicle before the police could issue him a ticket. Only when the use of lethal force is necessary should the Taser be deployed. This was not the case with Dziekanski, as the video clearly shows.

When a police officer draws their handgun, he or she knows—it is lethal force. That being known is a deterrence in itself. The Taser is not considered lethal force, so it's deployed casually without much thought of fatal consequences. If someone has an unknown medical condition, such as a weak heart, being shocked by a Taser could prove fatal. After all, no one knows how their body will react to 50,000 volts of electricity. With a handgun, the officer can always aim to maim, rather than shoot to kill.

Dziekanski’s death must have consequences for everyone involved, the RCMP, Canadian Border Services Agency and the airport authority. Since Dziekanski’s death seven weeks ago, there has been a second fatality involving police use of a Taser.

People have been led to believe Tasers are safe. Unfortunately, experience has proven otherwise. The possibility of sudden death makes the use of the Taser unpredictable and therefore unsafe for its intended purpose. In my opinion, it’s time to ban the Taser.

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