Tuesday, October 23, 2007

TASER death at Vancouver Airport shows need for moratorium on use, independent study as called for by Amnesty International

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday October 23, 2007

That's enough: Let's phase out the Taser


Taser technology saves lives every day.

A joyous mother waits in the Vancouver airport to meet her son after being separated by distance for years. She has worked two jobs for seven years to save enough money for him to emigrate from Poland

But her joy turns to worry when she cannot find her only child, and hours later she is told her son is dead after being hit with 50,000 volts of electricity from a Taser fired by a police officer at the airport.

It's impossible to imagine the depth of grief suffered by Zofia Cisowski, the mother of Robert Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish man who died Oct. 14 just hours after arriving in Canada on his first-ever flight.

Robert thought that he was about to begin a better life in Canada with his mother - instead, he was soon taken to the morgue.

Robert spoke no English and became highly agitated at the airport, breaking furniture and throwing objects but not physically harming anyone.

RCMP officers tried to calm Robert down but could not communicate with him. So they fired two Taser barbed hooks into his body and jolted him with 50,000 volts. He was subdued but died minutes later.

"Very soon I was going to realize my son's hug. I was smiling nicely because I would meet my son soon. My boy, my boy, how does this happen?" Zofia said, sobbing with tears. "I was there waiting for him. He didn't see me. I didn't see him. I'm so sad."

While it's hard to comprehend Zofia's anguish, it's easy to predict the same tragedy happening over and over - because 17 other people in Canada have died after being Tasered since 2003.

Amnesty International USA is calling for a comprehensive, independent medical study after the Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that Conducted-Energy Devices (CEDs), like Tasers, were the cause of death in 17 cases.

Amnesty has recorded 270 deaths after CEDs were used, the vast majority Tasers. And in those cases only 22 of the individuals who died were armed - none with firearms.

Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward is also calling for an independent investigation.

Ward represented the family of Robert Bagnell, a Vancouver man who died after being Tasered by Vancouver police in 2004.

Ward says there should be a moratorium on Tasers until they have been subject to rigorous safety testing.

"We have 18 cases in Canada of people who died after being Tasered - that's too many," Ward told 24 hours. "One of the concerns is that they are often used against unarmed people who are in medical or emotional distress."

Too many deaths, too much grief - it's time to stop using Tasers.


Budd Campbell said...

Victoria Chief Paul Battershill, a well-liked and respected police officer, conducted an review of Tasers a few years ago. His review found they were not a major hazard or a cause of death except where the victims had other "problems", mostly meaning drugs.

(Battershill has recently been forced to step aside because of some questions put forward by a lawyer who happens to be a Liberal Party activist.)

Some people won't trust Battershill's conclusions because he's a cop. Fine. Who would Cameron Ward trust, besides himself and a David Eby that is, to conduct such a review? I think we need to get that clear before we spend time on this matter. Let's remember that there are more than one statistic involved in assessing these gadgets. Not just a number, how many died across Canada over n years, but how many times there were used, on how many suspects, and what the range of injurious results were, ranging from no injuries through to serious impacts and even death. And would it be unfair to suggest that this be compared to the use of firearms instead?

There seems to be an assumption on the part of Ward and others that the cops are expected to risk fairly serious injury attempting to restrain by hand some large and quite wild people who have the strength and the inclination to inflict serious injury, even death, rather than use a generally non-lethal weaspon to restrain them. A man who is tossing furniture about may be willing to crash one of those wooden chairs down upon the head of the first cop who tries to grab hold of him, and unlike the movies, most of the chairs available in real life situations are not made of balsa wood.

The Globe and Mail reports today that a Quebec panel, also headed by a police officer, has refused to rule out using these weapons. I guess that recommendation too is suspect.

Does the BC College of Physicians have any thoughts to offer on the use of these weapons? Can they put forward one or two names of people who could conduct a review that would be acceptable to Ward, Eby and others?

Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating that police at the airport can't seem to figure out that a chap who doeasn't speak engish is a threat. LOts of languages are used but Polish is not the difficult. INternational signs don't alwas work. Holler at him as loud as you want. he didn't understand english So why not attempt to figure out what he is upset about rather than shoot him? Witnesses claim there was no crowd, nobody seemed to be in danger. Supposedly the cops are trained in use of all kinds or non lethal force and the ultimate lethal threat is a gun with Taser not far behind the list. People have died before that appeared to be in some phycotic. state or other. So where was all the training at that killing of some man, new to the country, who couldn't find his way and ended up dead. Sad event for his mother, and sad to see our airport security casn't seem to handle such a incident without killing the man. Must be his faut, as our police seem unable to do wrong. DL

Anonymous said...

I read Cameron Ward's commentary with great interest.

He writes in part that Taser International promoted it's product through police agencies by "...giving some of them stock options and cash payments for their efforts. Victoria, BC police officer Darren Laur, who wrote some early Taser endorsements, is one such police officer."

Now isn't that a conflict of interest? Why hasn't Mr. Laur and others been prosecuted?

This example sets out clearly why Taser's will not be banned. I am sure that Mark Tonner will rebut your column this weekend Bill.

Anonymous said...

In our 'post 9/11 world' (oh, how I hate that phrase) I would think that YVR would be covered in CCTV cameras - and yet all we have seen are some fuzzy cell phone images.

Where is the security camera footage?

And why the heck are the RCMP investigating themselves AGAIN?

Didn't we just go through this in the Houston in-custody 'incident' where it was shown that the RCMP showed a blatant lack of objectivity in their treatment of the involved officer in the investigation?

Michael Geoghegan said...

Tasers were supposed to be the alternative to lethal force, ie police shooting someone with a gun. Instead they have become the alternative to police having to physically grab and restrain someone. As a result tasers are being used far too often and lives are being lost instead of saved.

Anonymous said...

What is so damn miserable about this death is the outright callousness of the constables. It seems that instead of backing off and finding someone, anyone to help they chose to use the taser. Bad decision - stupid in the extreme. This death is perhaps the most thoughtless tragedy that could happen to a traveller. It is almost like the constables resented being called out so took the 'easy' way out. Shame on them for killing a poor old man.

Anonymous said...

I read todays piece surrounding use of the weapon known as the TASER.

I have the intention of filing a police complaint. This would be a general services complaint with the intention of improving the safety of all concerned citizens and police.

I am a mentally ill person who also struggles with epilepsy. Due to a documented history of problems with the Vancouver Police Department I was able to get a written apology from the Police Board.

Epilepsy was a contributing factor to my problems. A written training bulletin was prepared in terms of dealing with how the VPD deals with epileptics. I was then able to ask former Solicitor-General Rich Coleman to distribute this training bulletin to all detachments in BC.

So, what does this have to do with your article today? One medical condition that I feel could be impacted by TASERS is epilepsy. Epilepsy is a medical condition connected to electrical misfiring in the brain.

I know from third hand reporting by other people with epilepsy that misuse of TASERS by police on people suffering from an epileptic episode is an issue in this province. I highly doubt that the introduction of electricity via a TASER would have a positive impact on a person having a seizure. Sometimes Police have admitted to thinking our erratic behaviour was something to be wary of when in reality a seizure was occuring.

I still have every intention of attempting to file the general services complaint that I think will help all parties (Police and Citizens) concerning TASERS and epilepsy. However, it is going to take some research to bring this issue to a discussion stage. I do not want Police to put themselves at risk in volatile situations but I also do not want to see a person with epilepsy have a TASER used on them if proper training/procedures would have prevented it.

Anonymous said...

These tasers are scary, the fact that the police would use one in this situation is even scarier. In essence the police are saying if they didn't have the taser they would have shot him. Methinks I'd rather take a bullet in the leg to render me incapacitated, considering the misuse and abuse of the taser.

Anonymous said...

I am a Polish immigrant myself and I remember how excited my parents were when I arrived to YVR several years ago. They didn't see me for a while as well.
I remember how long it took and how many challenges I faced before I was able to emigrate from Poland. It was hard to let go of my life there too. That was my childhood and adolescence, all my friends, etc. Yet, I was so happy and excited to finally be able to join my parents and start a new life in Canada. I was lucky. I met my parents upon the arrival. It was so good to see them. They provided me a start. I do have a good and happy life here.

I cannot even magine what's Robert's mother, Zofia Cisowski is going through. It is such a tragedy. I believe, it was a big journey for her son to fly to Canada. It was his first flight ever. Second, he must have gone through a lot of time consuming beaurocracy to qualify and get immigration documents. Perhaps he had a hard time to say "good byes" to all that he had in Poland (his friends, all his life there). When he arrived to the airport, he was probably exhausted, considering all the emotional things plus a long flight from home and 9 hrs time difference. Additionally, maybe he was under influence of any kind of substance (medication, alcohol) and maybe that's why he "became highly agitated at the airport". He was "not physically harming anyone". He did not have a weapon. Why a weapon was used agaist him? He was on his own with his bare hands. Why a deadly weapon was used on him? How many policemen attacked this man who didn't even speak English? Why didn't the police take time to find out what was really happening with him? He was not a harm to anybody. Sadly to say, was it a WELCOME TO CANADA?
On another note, will we ever know the truth of what really happened? Who is going to be responsible, if anybody, for wrong doing?

I am so mad about the use of taser. So many innocent lives have been taken away so far. I am mad at the Police. Why did they take away another life?

I do hope there is justice. Unfortunatelly, the past cannot be changed but hopefully the future can.
17 lives in Canada, since 2003 have been taken away by taser. It is 17 lives too many. The last casualty hits home.

My condolences go to Zofia Cisowski and her family. I do not know them but my heart goes to them.


Anonymous said...

Ian Mulgrew writes in today's Vancouver Sun (Saturday, October 27, 2007):

"There is a video, [Robert Dziekanski family lawyer Walter] Kosteckyj said, but no one has produced a surveillance tape. It appears, he said, there is none.

That boggles the mind, that in a post-9/11 security environment, our much-celebrated gateway to North America has no cameras -- why?

Has anybody been to this area of YVR recently to see where the CCTV/surveillance cameras are?

Justice for Robert D. said...

If you are appalled by Robert Dziekanski's death, please write to your MP asking for an inquiry into the role of the RCMP and the airport authorities in the matter. There is a stock letter at http://justice4robertd.blogspot.com for mailing to the MP's.
Thank you.

Unknown said...

I read several of the comments and the article published here and I have one thing to say, "Damn all of you to Hell, for your ignorant babbling on issues that you yourself never have to deal with!" For any of you ignorant morons who talks about how horrible these Tasers are put yourself in an officers position. Have you EVER had to subdue a violent person, I work on a Fire Department, in EMS, on the ambulance, and Emergency Room, and I wish to God that I was aloud to carry one. People are absolutely NUTS! Ask yourself this, WHY WAS THIS MAN SO VIOLENT?!?! You don't know what was happening in that room, you see it in the video but you don't know what was said, all you see is the mans back! Why don't any of you stand in front of someone who is crazed and try to talk them down! Now I admit, that the fact that this man died is tragic, but you know what ... Shit happens! WHAT!!! and I know he supposedly wasn't but WHAT IF that man was a terrorist? Would you feel bad that he was stopped from blowing up your relatives on a plane or in the airport, or would you be glad that the terrorist was stopped before any real damage occurred!? Also ask yourself this, how many times have tasers' been used worldwide? Do you know, can you even fathom? So What's 20-30 or even 100 deaths in a 4 or 5 year period? Hell, smoking, drinking, fighting, guns, car accidents, FREAK ACCIDENTS! More people die having sex in that amount of time than being tasered!!!! Hell I don't want to waste my time researching it but I'd guess that more people are probably struck and killed by lighting in a year than killed by the use of a taser! And compare the odds! Don't EVER EVER EVER judge these police officers, until your in that situation.
One comment I read even asked what the alternative would have been? They said something to the effect of does that mean they would have used their guns?
Go ahead, ask yourself, what would the alternative be? 100 's or 1000's of people dead from a terrorist, police officers killed trying to protect your ungrateful ass, YOU killed cause you pissed some guy off! Some lunatic going to jail for life and your tax dollars wasted away on giving the crazies and criminals better lives than veterans from war. Yeah, lets lock em up and give them 3 meals a day, education, television, a roof over their heads, and pamper to them, while we let our war veterans and homeless live on the streets and die because they couldn't get help, because your money was spent on keeping the bastards that killed people or drove while they were drunk or raped or killed or ate your children or guardians or siblings, or sold drugs to your kid and knew it would kill them. Yeah, that sounds like a plan! Lets just do away with laws, and the law enforcement officials all together! Lets just let all those crazies and criminals run ramped. Who needs rules and laws. In case your actually thinking I'm serious about doing any of that, then please, do the world a favor, find the nearest cliff, bus, gun, car, train, or whatever you can, and jump off, stand in front of, pull the trigger, try to stop or whatever you need to do to just PLEASE KILL YOURSELF NOW!!!! Because you don't deserve the right to breath, breed, or live for that matter. You are a disgrace to mankind, and you would do the world a favor by never reproducing, you worthless sack of ****. For all of you who picked up on the sarcasm though!, think before you go running your mouth! Now, some of you uptight @$$holes are mumbling crap still, let me say this!, Are the police ever wrong? YES, Are You ever wrong, YES!, Do bad things happen to good people? Yes! Do good things happen to Bad people? Yes! I'm not saying that this man should have died, I'm not saying that ANY person deserves to die, I'm saying, sometimes, to get the job done, to do the right thing, to save lives, to help people, to protect yourself, to keep your neighbor or your friend or your family safe. SOMETIMES You have to make a choice; you have to do bad things; you choose; you regret; you wish you could change things or had more knowledge or wisdom. SOMETIMES!!!!!! ..................... Shit Happens.
So before you run your mouth and say all these bad things that you have no clue what your talking about, !!!!STOP!!!!!, because unless you can recreate that EXACT situation, and positively 1,000,000,000,000,000 times out of 1,000,000,000,000,000 you would have done something different at that situation, at that exact moment, than what that officers did, You don't have the right to voice your opinion on how horrible these officers are. Weigh the risk vs. the benefits.
Do you think that those officers are glad or happy that they killed this man? I'll tell you this, EVERY DAY!!! I LIVE , WITH QUESTIONS! THE WHAT IF'S!!! is what we call em, and you'll never forget, or get over them. WHAT IF, I had kept searching, would I have saved them, WHAT IF, I would have kept trying would I have brought them back, WHAT IF, someone else was working her, would she have lived? WHAT IF, I did the wrong thing. I can also tell you that there's a WHOLE LOT of good WHAT IF'S too; like, what if I hadn't been there, would someone else have found them in the fire? WHAT IF, someone else was trying to revive them, would they have been able to bring them back like I did? WHAT IF I had called in sick like I wanted to, would that man ever have seen his family again, because I was the one who rescued him? But here's the thing, You don't remember the "Good" WHAT IF'S in public service, you remember the bad ones. That's just about all you can ever think about. We in public service, see things, do, things, and deal with things, that normal people wouldn't be able to. So don't question every bad thing that happens. Sometimes, ... Shit Happens, and there's nothing you can do.

Anonymous said...

What brad had said is pretty pathetic excuse for what the rcmp did. I seriously doubt anything will be done as the rcmp is allowed to investigate themselves(what a joke) and i'm sure high ranking officials and politicians got some nice change ($$$$) from the taser's manufacturer. Great democratic country we have here. I'm sure Robert would have prefered to stay in poland if he'd known even in the 80's at least then you knew the police could kill you for absolutely no reason.

Anonymous said...

This really sickens me. I just don't understand why a polish speaking officer was not brought in. Yes I do understand that the man was a little distraught. The thing is though imagine going into a country where you don't speak or understand the language,, being stuck in an airport for hours and being lost not know what to do. I personally would be a little distraught as well. Isn't that why interpreters are hired. To help new people coming into our country. I think that it was a wrong action by the RCMP. No matter the apologize they give it will never give the mother her son back.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bill,
I am extremely saddened by this tragedy. In respect to Brad's comment, I must say that's exactly what was in the mind of the Policemen. However it is unlikely an alleged "terrorist" would get stuck for 10 hours waiting to be zapped.
Would someone kind enough to set up a multi-language phoneline that connects to embassies, churches or voluntary organizations to help stranded travellers?
Ed, Edmonton

Anonymous said...

Four police officers and they could not tackle this guy without using a taser plus the security guards? Come on. I hope heads roll.

neil said...

Having seen the video of this incident several times now, I wonder if the man's death was not ultimately due to positional asphyxiation because of the weight of several police officers on his back and perhaps his neck. It is well known that this type of restraint technique can be lethal and police officers should not be using it. The post-mortem exam should discover this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you but seriously as an immigrant I except more from Canada.

Some people say this is the best country in the world but I disagree.If Canada was so good,would it fall down to the barbaric use of tasers?

Tasers should be banned.These are powerful,evil objects that are dangerous in every way.

-MD and LD

planetway said...

Budd Campbell says:
"...the cops are expected to risk fairly serious injury attempting to restrain by hand some large and quite wild people who have the strength and the inclination to inflict serious injury, even death, rather than use a generally non-lethal weaspon to restrain them."

First, what baloney. This man did not look like he was about to inflict serious injury on anyone. Second, if you don't accept risk and danger as part of the job, then don't be a cop.
Watching the video, these guys behave like thugs and cowards. They could easily have restrained him without tasing him. He puts his hands up, there are at least 4, maybe 5 cops. God knows what else they did. One video shows what looks like the swing of a nighstick.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the police these days are limp-wristed wussies that can't even deal with someone without Tasering them. It is disgusting. I am outraged.

The Kennedy Report says it all.

PS: Brad - you're an idiot. If that is your attitude then you should not be allowed out. If someone is acting strangely, there is always to option for The Man to back-off until someone figures out what the problem really is.

Anonymous said...

Bill, What say you about the direction the Robert D case will take now that there is potential evidence of pre-meditated plan to use Taser. Would you bet on a mis-trial. And, notwithstnding the Lawyers goof, what of the futures for the senior RCMP officers - do you also smell hints of an attempted cover up!