Braidwood praises Taser reforms in B.C.
Retired judge Thomas Braidwood is “very pleased with the response” to his recommendations on the use of Taser stun guns by police in the wake of Robert Dziekanski’s death in 2007.
Dziekanski, 40, was emigrating to Canada from Poland. He was planning on living with his mom, Zofia Cisowski, in Kamloops.
Braidwood testified this week before a legislature committee after a senior RCMP official reported on training and procedure changes that led to an 87 per cent reduction in use of Tasers to subdue people.
Braidwood emphasized that he stands by the core finding of his inquiry, which is that police in B.C. should continue to use Tasers with new training and strict new rules.
Those provincewide rules include requiring police to determine the subject is causing bodily harm or is about to, and mandating “de-escalation” or crisis-intervention techniques be taught and used before a Taser is deployed.
Braidwood described a basic technique that could have been used when four Richmond RCMP officers approached a distraught Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport.
If one of those officers had simply pulled up a chair and sat down, Braidwood said, Dziekanski would likely be alive today.
Similar techniques can defuse even violent domestic disputes, rightly considered by police to be their most dangerous calls, said Braidwood, a former prosecutor who went on to serve as a B.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeal justice.
The Taser rules also require police to have an automated defibrillator in the car or in a supervisor’s vehicle in communities of 5,000 people or fewer.
Independent testing of stun guns is also required and the rules also apply to all municipal police in B.C.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Randy Beck told the committee that new training began in 2011.
By then, the fallout from the Dziekanski case had led to a steep decrease in use of Tasers.
Braidwood noted that, so far, there has not been a corresponding increase in police use of guns.
“Have more police officers been injured while restraining violent subjects, or have officers discovered that other tools in their arsenal, such as training in crisis-intervention techniques, have resolved many of these potentially dangerous confrontations without resorting to use of conducted energy weapons?” he asked.
“It would appear to be a fruitful area for more research.”
Braidwood’s inquiry led not only to new Taser procedures, but also to the establishment of B.C.’s new Independent Investigations Office, the civilian-led agency that began work this summer to take control of all police-involved incidents that result in death or serious bodily harm.
Braidwood said the steps taken since his inquiry have filled a gap in the civilian oversight of police that is “a fundamental tenet that distinguishes Canada from totalitarian or dictatorial states.”