Thomas Braidwood's inquiry into taser use in B.C. was not supposed to have jurisdictional authority over the RCMP in the province. Thankfully, the highly respected retired judge decided to ignore his original terms of reference.
Mr. Braidwood knew it would be foolish, not to mention a waste of his time and taxpayers' dollars, to make recommendations that applied only to municipal police forces.
The Mounties police 70 per cent of the province, and RCMP officers in B.C. have the highest taser use of any provincial division in the country. What would be the point of writing a report that could be ignored by those who needed to hear its message most?
In his report, made public Thursday , Mr. Braidwood came down precisely where I thought he would: All police should be able to continue using tasers but under many more restrictions. And that makes sense. At the end of the day, tasering people who are a danger is often a better alternative to shooting them.
But Mr. Braidwood wants a new threshold established for when officers can pull out their conducted-energy weapons.
The RCMP recently instituted new guidelines that state an officer can use a stun gun only when someone is a "threat to officer or public safety" or is exhibiting "assaultive behaviour." Those parameters are too broad and open to interpretation, according to Mr. Braidwood, whose recommendations stem from the RCMP taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski in October, 2007.
We heard the officers involved in the tasering of Mr. Dziekanski, for instance, defend their actions by saying they thought the unarmed Polish immigrant was a "threat to their personal safety."
Mr. Braidwood wants new policies in place that insist the taser not be used unless a subject is "causing bodily harm or the officer is satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that the subject's behaviour will imminently cause bodily harm."
But the inquiry head goes further: "Even then, an officer should not deploy the weapon unless satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that no lesser force option would be effective, and de-escalation and/or crisis intervention techniques would not be effective."
Using those principles, it would have been much harder for the officers involved in the Dziekanski incident to justify their actions.
But as Mr. Braidwood notes, the RCMP is a federal force and not subject to B.C. statutes. It is answerable to Ottawa only, even though B.C. residents pay the Mounties salaries here. In other words, the force doesn't have to listen to a thing Mr. Braidwood has to say if it doesn't want to.
But Mr. Braidwood, brilliant man that he is, has given the B.C. government a way around the problem. That is, if the RCMP doesn't voluntarily agree to implement the recommendations.
You see, the RCMP's contract with the province is up in 2012. Mr. Braidwood has suggested the government insist the Mounties agree to implement all of commission's recommendations regarding tasers as a condition of renewing its policing agreements with the province.
B.C. Solicitor-General Kash Heed said Thursday he has sent an order to the RCMP that it comply with the recommendations. Certainly a rare display of nerve by this government in its dealings with the force.
To his immense credit, the commissioner was pretty pointed about what he thought of the province's handling of the taser issue. Which is to say he feels the government abdicated its responsibility to establish province-wide standards for the weapon. And if I had been writing the report I might have added: This provincial government is entirely spineless when it comes to confronting the Mounties with regard to any number of problem cases in which it has been involved in B.C.
I guess we'll see what happens. RCMP management in B.C. told me they are going to take some time to digest the Braidwood report before commenting on the recommendations and deciding whether they'll adopt all of them in B.C. and/or across the country. Contrary to some reports, the RCMP has not promised to implement all the recommendations, 'E' Division Commander Gary Bass told me Thursday.
But my feeling is the Mounties will because they really have no choice. There is a great swell of public opinion rising against them. And my guess is that public opinion will be solidly behind the many good suggestions made in Mr. Braidwood's report.
I think the RCMP should just surrender on this one.