VICTORIA - The former judge who oversaw the public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski says he's "very impressed" with the British Columbia government's response to his report, which he argues has struck the appropriate balance between the benefits of the stun guns and the very real risks associated with their use.
Thomas Braidwood, who oversaw a two-part public inquiry into Dziekanski's death and Taser use, appeared in Victoria on Tuesday at a legislative committee examining the controversial stun guns.
Braidwood walked the committee through many of the recommendations from his June 2009 report on Tasers, which concluded the weapons can kill and called for restrictions on their use.
In each case, he said he was satisfied with how the government implemented those recommendations.
"I've been very impressed with the province's response to what I have said," said Braidwood.
"The tragic events that led to my two inquiries demanded prompt government action. Conducted-energy weapons in British Columbia were at that time poorly regulated. ... Today, there is good reason for the public to be assured that lessons have been learned."
Dziekanski died in October 2007, after four officers confronted him at Vancouver's airport and repeatedly stunned him with a Taser. The incident was captured on amateur video, which fuelled public anger and prompted the government to order a public inquiry.
Before examining Dziekanski's death in detail, Braidwood held a separate set of hearings looking at Taser use in the province.
He concluded Tasers have the capacity to kill in certain situations, and he said they should be used far less often — only in cases involving bodily harm or the threat of bodily harm.
He called for standardized training for police officers, who should be required to file detailed reports whenever a Taser is deployed, and he said any officer carrying a Taser should also be equipped with an automatic defibrillator.
Braidwood's report also said the weapons should be subjected to independent testing and warned the government and police departments not to rely on the weapon's manufacturer, Taser International, to decide when and how they should be used.
On Tuesday, Braidwood said he was satisfied with the government's response in all of those areas.
He said new Taser regulations, announced last December, set appropriate limits on Taser use and will ensure officers are properly trained and equipped. He also said the RCMP's own changes to its Taser policy should be commended, as well.
Braidwood pointed to a provincial government statistic that indicated Taser use in B.C. has dropped by 87 per cent since 2007, which he said suggests politicians and police are heeding his warning that the stun guns are dangerous.
"I think cultural change doesn't happen overnight," said Braidwood. "We fought a huge culture that these things were safe, and that's gone now."
Braidwood said he was concerned Taser training is spread across the province, rather than in one place, such as the Justice Institute of B.C. He also noted in small communities, only the on-duty commander is required to have an automatic defibrillator, rather than the officer who is carrying the Taser.
But Braidwood acknowledged those were likely financial decisions, and he was reluctant to criticize them.
Despite his concerns about Tasers, Braidwood's 2009 report also said the weapons are a valuable non-lethal alternative for police, and he argued society was better off with Tasers than without them.
He repeated that argument on Tuesday.
"Somebody said to me, 'We should ban Tasers,' and I said, 'Well, then we'd just shoot them in the stomach,'" said Braidwood.
"It's the balance. And I think we've got the balance here."
Braidwood's report into Dziekanski's death concluded the four RCMP officers involved in the incident acted too quickly when they arrived at the airport, where Dziekanski had been throwing furniture, and then used excessive force when one of them repeatedly fired the Taser.
Those four officers are each facing perjury charges for their testimony at the inquiry.
Braidwood's report also helped convince the provincial government to set up an independent body to investigate serious criminal allegations involve police officers.
The Independent Investigations Office opened its doors last month.
— By James Keller in Vancouver
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