Thursday, June 26, 2008

Judge Wallace Craig on Tasers


Better Oversight Vital

June 25, 2008

SHUT your eyes and visualize today’s Dirty Harry in action: Taser “deployed”, a sizzling emission of electricity strikes like a serpent and stings like an adder.

Another bad guy bites the dust. No fuss, no muss, on go the cuffs.

Oops, the bad guy stops breathing and dies. That’s life!

Today’s Dirty Harry is either pure Hollywood myth or, in many variations, may be dotted about in all municipal forces and RCMP detachments in British Columbia.

So be wary when a 21st century police officer stops your car or knocks on your door. He may be of the new breed, armed with a Taser and ready to use it if you become pugnacious.

Since 1999, when Canadian police began using Tasers, an ever-increasing and indiscriminate use of it has brought policing into disrepute and profaned the inviolability of the force continuum. Here are two recent B.C. incidents: a delirious 82-year-old patient in his hospital bed and an uncooperative 67-year-old seated in his car with his wife beside him.

In allowing this usage creep, Canadian law enforcement has drifted dangerously from its founding principles. Sir Robert Peel, the man behind the first-ever English standing police force founded in 1829, imposed nine principles that marked a giant step away from punitive quasi-military policing that had existed until that point. They form the basis of modern policing.

Two of his principles are at the heart of his admonition, “The police are the public and the public are the police”:

“The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of their actions;

“The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”

The force continuum introduced by Peel to minimize violence, lives on in modern guidelines for escalating intervention techniques: officer presence leading to verbal commands; empty-handed control techniques; use of pepper spray or batons; less-lethal force such as weapons that fire bean bags or rubber bullets; and finally deadly force. But the nasty Taser threatens to turn the force continuum into nothing more than a toolbox for quick-fix Taser cops.

It is chilling to consider that Taser cops may be the new face of policing, bringing an insidious element of borderline para-militarism. Officers who will unhesitatingly ignore the use-of-force continuum and cross professional and ethical boundaries in pursuit of a version of expedient power – the stunning and painful subjugation of a citizen using electric shocks as a prime corollary of arrest.

See if you remember this: A few days after the Deep Cove Daze outdoor festival on Sunday, August 28, 2005 the North Shore News reported allegations “by more than a dozen district residents that officers used excessive force by employing a Taser to deal with an intoxicated 21-year-old man Peter Giezen.”

After the Giezen incident Supt. Gord Tomlinson of the North Vancouver RCMP attempted to downplay the use of the Taser. According to the News, Tomlinson said “It’s like pepper spray or a baton, just another tool in our toolbox to control unruly persons. It’s not dangerous. That’s media scare.”

In an editorial on August 31, 2005 the News stated “… witnesses who have spoken to us are unanimous that the young man was already subdued by those four officers when he was Tasered. The act smacks of punishment, not control to us. And that is simply wrong.”

The storm of controversy and worldwide condemnation following the October 15, 2007 tasering death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport has had no effect on the RCMP’s E Division, B.C.’s notional provincial police, as it continues to lead the way, nationally, in the acquisition and use of Tasers.

Dziekanski’s death, a national cause celebre, has generated at least eight Canadian inquiries into Taser usage.

Two inquiries are crucial to the future of policing in British Columbia. The most important one is a B.C. inquiry by retired judge Tom Braidwood to be completed Nov. 30. The other, just completed, is by Paul Kennedy, Chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against RCMP Performance.

When Braidwood writes his report he ought to go beyond the narrow issue of the tasering of Dziekanski and tell the government to refuse to renew the provincial police contract with E Division unless it accepts civilian oversight by democratic police boards in all of its detachments and the authority of B.C.’s complaint and disciplinary process.

This would place E Division under the thumb of the B.C. Police Act and restore provincial control over all aspects of policing – including how and when Tasers may be used.

It is time to say to E Division: Sign up under our Police Act or we will recreate our own provincial police force.

Kennedy is scheduled to appear before the Braidwood inquiry later this month. No doubt they will engage in a colloquy over the sad state of affairs of the RCMP.

Kennedy should say more to Braidwood than he has written in his report about the realities facing the RCMP today: “a high number of new recruits, a high rate of turnover, a high number of baby boomers retiring, experienced members leaving the force for a variety of reasons, and a lack of resources (that) have resulted in the inadequate mentoring of new members, understaffing of detachments, and morale issues …”

Kennedy ought to expand on his most troubling finding: “A continued departure from (the principles of Sir Robert Peel) by the RCMP is not a minor matter. It is a harbinger of a new model of policing in Canada, one in which the police are a group distinct from the public and whose decisions are the preserve of public safety experts. It is a model in which officer safety takes precedence over that of the general public and where the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is significantly undervalued. The cumulative effect of these trends over time may reduce the degree of co-operation of the public that is essential to public safety in Canada.”

Regardless of inquiries and all the talk they involve, they do not represent the will of the people.

It is time to say to the North Shore Detachment of the RCMP: Sign up under our Police Act or we will create our own municipal police force.

It is time for all of us to rise up and demand that police behave as servants, not masters, of the public.

Contact Judicial Gadfly at or by posting your comment on the Writer’s Corner of

Published June 25, 2008 by the North Shore News


David in North Burnaby BC said...

"It is time to say to E Division: Sign up under our Police Act or we will recreate our own provincial police force."
I think its just time we went ahead and brought back the BC force anyway and send the horsemen east over the mountains where they belong.

MikeT said...

I agree with the poster above. There was never any solid reason for bringing the Dudleys into this province in 1950. The provincial Grits in the Coalition Government wanted to bribe the provincial Tories to stay on side; it was political expediency to keep a coalition from falling apart (which it did). The RCMP are "horribly broken" and Ottawa lacks the political wiil to fix them. Recognizing that we did not need Dudleys in 1950 and do not need them now, lets just walk away.

And my municipality (the Township of Langley) can form a small regional force with the City of Langley if no metro force comes about.