Canadian judge calls for tight Taser controls

A Canadian judge has recommended tight controls on the use of Taser stun guns as part of an inquiry into the death of a Polish passenger at Vancouver airport two years ago.

But Justice Thomas Braidwood did not call for a ban on police use of such weapons in his first report into the death in 2007 of Robert Dziekanski after he was Tasered and subdued by four police officers.

“A police officer’s job has become far more demanding and much more dangerous,” and officers need tools, Braidwood wrote in his report released Thursday.

But “because we give police officers extraordinary powers of search, arrest, and use of lethal force, we are entitled to expect that they will use these powers prudently and with restraint.”

He argued however that in “the great majority of deployments, the conducted energy weapon is effective.”

And he told reporters at a press conference Thursday: “Our society is better off with these.”

Braidwood’s recommendations call for tight controls on when law enforcement officers can use Tasers, as well as intensive training.

He noted that the weapons act by causing intense pain and “neuromuscular incapacitation.” Their use is restricted to law enforcement in Canada, but the devices are sold as unregulated firearms through retail outlets in the US.

“We have no idea of the relative risk of death in a large population due to Taser use,” Braidwood wrote.

British Columbia authorities said they accepted all 19 recommendations made by the justice, while the national police said it would review the report.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police added in a statement the force “believes that when properly used in appropriate situations, by officers who are well trained, the (Taser) is a useful tool, that contributes to officer and public safety.”

Dziekanski, a nervous first-time traveler immigrating to Canada, began behaving erratically after being lost in the airport for 10 hours having failed to find his mother waiting to meet him. He spoke only Polish and struggled to communicate with airline and arrivals staff.

When he finally emerged to find his mother gone, he became distraught and police were called after he began shouting and throwing items.

The Braidwood inquiry previously heard that less than one minute after four policemen approached Dziekanski, one officer Tasered him the first of five times.

The case became an international scandal after a video showing Dziekanski screaming and writhing on the floor in pain was broadcast across the media and Internet.

The Braidwood inquiry will resume hearings for the second part of its report in September.