When Mounties fail, an ordinary guy with a camera is likely to save the day.

At least, that’s what one must assume after a Youtube video recently served as the primary tattle on a pair of RCMP officers who abused their power to tase:

When four RCMP officers strode into the arrivals area at Vancouver International Airport to deal with a disruptive traveller, they came armed with a variety of weapons and were guided by the National Use-of-Force Framework used to train police across the country.

Within minutes, however, the guidelines meant to help police maintain order with minimum risk to themselves and the public had not prevented Robert Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish immigrant, from ending up on the floor in the throes of death.

A disturbing video of that incident, shot by Paul Pritchard of Victoria, has become international news since it was released Wednesday, and it is raising troubling questions about a police decision to use force against a man who seemed to be threatening no one.

A taser was used to shock Mr. Dziekanski about 24 seconds after the police arrived, although he appeared to offer no resistance to the officers, raising his hands and backing away a few steps.

It’s not really an uncommon tale. Police have always had to walk a fine line between violent and passive restraint. If one is too passive, chaos could ensue. And if they are too violent? Well…

Unfortunately, police have gained a bad rap because of incidents like this. In general, this type of situation is handled well. However, because the occasional exceptions are the only stories intriguing enough to be covered in the news the general populace must assume that police often go overboard. Surely, the majority of RCMP-handled situations do not involve trigger-happy moments. But those that do cannot be ignored.

And nor should they, particularly when involving something as innocuous as a taser. This situation is not unique to Canada; In fact, as is demonstrated in this Colbert Report (to which I have linked before), the issue was covered in the US media long before Canadians felt that it was a threat. It took a man’s death to bring to light that the Mounties, too, can pull some pretty evil stunts.

Upon reviewing the video (here‘s the link — I won’t embed it because it’s shocking enough that not everyone will want to stomach it), I can understand to an extent the emotions that must have been coursing through the policemen. The buildup to the confrontation demonstrates a violence on the part of the Polish man that is brushed over in the Globe and Mail article. First he smashes a computer, then he throws a stool at a window. His own frustration is understandable — he’s lost and stranded in a foreign country at one in the morning, with no one able to understand him — but as an officer being summoned in to the scenario, it would be difficult to overlook the fact that he had been behaving destructively. (Even the people around him prior to the polices’ arrival were clearly keeping their distance because of his violent composure.)

So, that being said, the RCMP representatives were surely coming in with a “disarm” mindset, as opposed to treating the situation like a chance to offer help to a stranded victim. They resorted to the use of tasers far too quickly, and, as was stated in the excerpt, with little or no evidence that he was going to engage them in any aggressive manner. But all this would be little more than a slight question of morality if it weren’t for the nature of tasers.

Which, unfortunately, the article pushes to the back burner, focusing primarily on how reasonable the police were to use the weapon, rather than the problem with the tasers themselves.

Regardless of the officers’ intent, tasers are “stun” weapons that all too often end up doing so much more than stunning. This needs to be confronted, more than the officers’ composure. Because tasers seem to have become a glorified “pepper spray”, every instance I have witnessed of overzealous tasering has been entirely innocuous. Yes, these men intended to use force, but they did not seem to be aiming to harm the Pole — and much less do I believe that they intended to kill him. Rather, the mindset was one of efficiency; this was a quick and easy fix. Had the police officers known that they would end up with this mess on their hands, they likely would not have pressed the trigger.

What’s frightening is the ease with which they do it. In the video, they don’t seem to be aggressive, or even malicious. Instead, they regard the taser as a simple tool. Hopefully they now realize it isn’t one. But self-realization and repentance aside, this image of tasers as harmless has utterly been shattered. It is time for this to be taken into account internationally, and tasers need to be considered on par with guns. Had the RCMP officer shot the man, there would be no doubt that he was in the wrong. The same must come to be said of tasing.

The poignant ending to the CBC coverage seems to sum it up well. When such weapons are considered mere tools, “the verdict is already in”: those who are tased are guilty, and potentially punishable by death.

It’s sad when a bystander with a camera understands justice better than the people within the system.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bridgett
    Nov 17, 2007 @ 14:11:36

    Not this alarmingly, but this happened here in St. Louis as well. The officer was verbally abusive at a routine traffic stop, and it was caught on the driver’s cell phone and youtubed. I believe the officer was fired, but he may have just been suspended.


  2. nebcanuck
    Nov 19, 2007 @ 15:46:01


    Out of curiosity, what constituted “verbal abuse?” Was there some real abuse of his position, or was it more poor composure on the part of the officer? (this of course assuming you saw the clip.)


  3. 49erDweet
    Nov 21, 2007 @ 13:26:50

    The comments on your post were very perceptive. As a former LE officer in Cali there were many situations personally faced where some type of reasonable restraint application was required, but often not easily available It is quite a conundrum for the well-intentioned officer intent on maintaining public peace.

    The effect of Tasers on crystal meth users – and other drugs – can be variable and unpredictable. It is a tool, but as you said, can end up badly for the “tased”. And frequently a distraught person can appear to be “under the influence” of something, when in fact they are just tired and too cranky to care who knows it.

    This episode was a shame, but I also agree the time interval was too short for an experienced officer to decide on “tasing” as an appropriate method of restoring peace.

    Well writ. Cheers


  4. Bridgett
    Nov 21, 2007 @ 19:27:45

    I did not see the clip–it was just talked about at length on local news. I believe the driver asked for his name and badge number and the officer refused, that this was at least part of it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: