‘Might’ isn’t right

For those of you who I have spoken to or who have read my piece on the taser incident at YVR (The right questions not being asked) try this piece by Les MacPherson of the Star Phoenix.

The media is driving a feeding frenzy on the RCMP who were simply responding to a call to deal with a violent man. They responded according to their training and the stated policy of the Force. Don’t like the policy? Fine. Make that the story. Think the Mounties were trying to cover up? Terrific. Have a go at their media relations strategy. But don’t go after the guys who were trying their best to do their job.

In response to the frenzy, the Government of BC has ordered a public inquiry to accomplish God knows what. Well, that knee-jerk just cost the taxpayer at least $5million. And for what?

The Canada Border Services Agency (Canada Customs) who had care and control of Robert Dziekanski for over ten hours in their holding area and were the last and only agency to speak with him before the RCMP were called to deal with the by-then violent man, are a federal agency under the control, so to speak, of the Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day. The RCMP at YVR are in federal positions and not, as I understand it, covered by the provincial contract with the federal police agency. YVR itself is under the regulation of the federal Minister of Transport. I hate to be pedantic, but what can a provincial public inquiry hope to achieve into three departments under federal control?

Here’s a clue . . .absolutely nothing unless those agencies decide to cooperate fully with an ultra vires inquiry. That might occur. And the CBSA and YVR might actually say something to address the many serious questions that led to the Mounties being called by them to deal with a violent man they created.

They might. And my old maternal Aunt might grow testicles and become my Uncle.

Leo Knight

A Look at the Other Side of the Taser Incident:
Man’s lack of co-operation necessitated force

Les MacPherson, The StarPhoenix, Saturday, November 17, 2007

We have all by now seen the disturbing video of the hapless Polish immigrant screaming, writhing and dying after RCMP officers used a Taser on him at the Vancouver airport. Now almost everyone in the country is piling on police for using excessive force.

Excuse me for not joining in. What people seem not to realize is that there is no way to subdue a violent, irrational and potentially dangerous suspect that isn’t disturbing. What, exactly, would these armchair critics have had the police do? Talk to the guy? They tried. Police when they approached the man were as non-threatening as they could be. It didn’t work.

The suspect, after storming around the airport, smashing up furniture and alarming everyone around him, was now ignoring police instructions. Instead of co-operating, as any reasonable person would have and should have done, he threw up his hands, turned around and walked away.

Were police supposed to let him go? Were they to let him storm around some more until he felt like obeying them? I hope not. For all anyone knew, the suspect was armed and potentially dangerous. Had he suddenly produced a weapon and killed an innocent bystander, say, the same people who today are condemning the officers for using excessive force would instead be condemning them for not using enough force. “Why didn’t they use their Tasers?” people would be asking.

All the man had to do was co-operate and no one would have been hurt. Instead, he resisted by walking away. If violent and potentially dangerous suspects can avoid arrest simply by walking away, we might as well not even have police.

Of course, Robert Dziekanski did not deserve to die. But someone who for no good reason is violent and destructive and who then ignores the police should expect to be roughly handled. That the rough handling in this case ended in tragedy is not the fault of police. They were using a tool that we have given them; a tool intended to reduce the risk of injury to both themselves and suspects.

No one could have foreseen that the suspect would not survive. Independent scientific studies in Canada, Britain and the U.S. have repeatedly found that Tasers are more likely to save lives and reduce injuries to both suspects and police. That’s why journalists and police officers routinely submit to being zapped for demonstration purposes. As an alternative to zapping Dziekanski, police could have tried to physically subdue him, but not without risk of serious injury to themselves and their suspect.

For all they knew at the time, he could have been high on illegal drugs, some of which are known to give a resistant suspect the strength of several men. For all they knew at the time, he could have had AIDS or hepatitis and a pocket full of needles. The $60,000 a year we pay these people isn’t nearly enough to expect them to get into a bloody brawl if they can possibly avoid it. Pepper spray is another alternative, but that, too, has been implicated in dozens of deaths.

As for police batons, they have been found to be more dangerous still, more so, even, than Tasers. Of course, none of these are necessary for suspects who don’t resist arrest. Why Dziekanski behaved as he did, we may never know. We’ve all found ourselves waiting at one time or another for someone who doesn’t show up, as he apparently was. Most of us handle it without throwing around the furniture.

There was in this case the additional complication of a language barrier, but rational people overcome language barriers all the time, especially so in international airports. That 60 million others, many of them foreign, have passed through the Vancouver airport without incident would suggest that the problem was with Dziekanski.

By the time police were called to the scene, he had long since cleared immigration and was free to go. He could have sought out an interpreter. He could have caught a cab, found a hotel room and sorted it all out the next day. Instead, he went more or less berserk and then resisted arrest. Police are not allowed the luxury of sorting it out later.

Their duty was to subdue and arrest him, one way or another, and promptly. For all they knew, he was a smuggler whose erratic behaviour was caused by a broken condom of cocaine in his stomach. Had that been the case, their prompt action might just as easily have saved his life. When police are killed in the line of duty, we fret mightily over officer safety, for without officer safety, there can be no public safety. Then, when police use the tools we give them to make their dangerous job as safe as it can be, we condemn them. So which is it?


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  1. Leo,

    Sorry to be the bearer of dissention to this emotionally charged topic, but what the…..??

    The unadulterated tripe spouted by Les MacPherson is not aimed at providing a solution to the sad events that took place at YVR, but a poorly disguised attempt at stirring up the pot again. Enough said.

    As to the area that is worth discussion, you implied quite rightly that there are far more questions than answers right now and I feel that we as the majority would be well advised to leave it alone until the reports various are submitted by all and sundry it seems, including old Uncle Tom Cobbley and his dog!

    I am totally against the sensationalism that has been in the forefront of the media for may weeks now and wish that it would stop. The wisdom of offering the video to the masses for every armchair quaterback to offer his two cents worth was suspect in the extreme.

    I truly feel for the four members involved in this nightmare just as I feel for the family and friends of Robert Dziekanski and the present environment of ‘trial by the media’ is no trial at all.

    I experienced a similar situation in 1993 when confronted by a man armed with a very sharp knife. He had left a suicide note stating that he wished to die at the hands of the police and made it very difficult for us to arrest him peacefully. Had we had the benefit of a taser type weapon, we would undoubtedly deployed it on this occasion as it may have prevented him stabbing me during our encounter. This was in a very public place and the incident was witnessed by more than 100 tourists, so our conduct was also scrutinized.

    I am sure that every normal member of our society echoes the clear voice of gratitude that should be shouted from the rooftops to all first responders, not just the Police, who often are required to endanger their own safety, not always as a heroic act but more simply as a part of their job decription. Canada would not be the best country in the world without such individuals!

  2. The whole idea of banning Tasers is a joke. I don’t believe out cops are pulling these devices off and shooting random people for kicks?? They are used as a alternative tool for subduing violent, high, and/or combative persons that need to be taken into custody.

    Reaction like this just shows how out of touch a lot of people are regarding policing in ths country. Police deal with the lowest of society on a daily basis, with little or no kudos to boot, no matter what decision is made. We have it so lucky n Canada that our police are trustworthy and not corrupt. Try getting pulled over by a cop in Mexico, or dealing with uniforms in Brazil, or the corruption of Russia.

    Perhaps if these do-gooders were shown how much it costs taxpayers money to pay an officer on sick leave (injured while trying to forecbly confine a violent subject) and then the dollars involved in hireing overtime to cover injured officer(s), I’m sure it would be one way to get them to shut the f*ck up!!!


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