Alberta may reassess police use of Tasers
Calgary force reports no problems; Edmonton police face several lawsuits
Premier Ed Stelmach is considering a review of how police in Alberta use Tasers after the public release of a video that shows officers using a Taser on a distraught man at the Vancouver airport.
Robert Dziekanski, 40, died minutes after being zapped by a Taser on Oct. 14. The Polish man who spoke no English was reported to be acting strangely after spending 10 hours in a secure area, trying to connect with his mother.
On Thursday in the legislature, Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason asked the premier for a provincial review into Taser use, saying at least five Albertans have been severely injured or died after being shot with aTaser by police.
"This is not a political issue," said Mason. "This is a matter of ensuring the safety of our citizens and providing clear guidelines to the police so they know when to use Tasers and when not."
In response, Stelmach said, "We'll undertake that with the justice minister and solicitor general to see if we can look at the rules, review them and bring forward to the assembly the results."
The Calgary Police Service reported no problems since it started using Tasers in 2005.
"Since that time to date, we've used the device just in excess of 300 times," said Staff Sgt. Chris Butler. "And in those 300 times, we've had no instances of serious injuries related to the use of Tasers."
Murray Billett, vice-chair of the Edmonton Police Commission, told CBC News Thursday that he's content with the force's current policy and use of Tasers.
Edmonton police say officers are trained to use a Taser only when a suspect is aggressive and showing resistance.
Officers must inform a supervisor and file a report each time the weapon is used. According to the EPS, 35 per cent of officers carry Tasers, a number it wants to increase to 45 per cent over the next year.
The EPS has received several complaints against officers of excessive force with Tasers since it began using them in 1999.
Brian Fish, a 66-year-old family lawyer, was struck by a police Taser in 2006 when celebrations for the Edmonton Oilers reaching the Stanley Cup finals turned violent.
Fish went down to Whyte Avenue and started taking pictures with his digital camera because his son had called to say he thought the police were using too much force with the crowd.
When Fish refused the request of Edmonton police to stop taking photos, he was knocked to the ground and hit with a Taser twice on his back.
A police investigation found no wrongdoing by officers. Fish is now suing the EPS and the officers who fired the Taser.
He said it's time the Edmonton police crack down on officers who abuse the weapon.
"There are some names that keep coming up again and again and again. And if you've got a bad apple in the barrel you have to get rid of it, because if you don't it turns all of the other apples bad."
Lawyer Tom Engel, who has filed Taser complaints against the EPS, said the weapons have become a substitute for good policing. He said every officer should watch the dramatic video from Vancouver as part of training.
"They're all human beings and I think that would have a very significant impact on the officer," he said.