Nurse troubled by Tasers

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      Danger is a big part of what Tania Lukasiewicz does for a living. As a psychiatric nurse, the 28-year-old regularly comes into contact with unstable people. Her patients are either mentally ill or habitual drug users, or both. They can be hostile.

      "I'm dealing with people that are in the same state as the police might find them–high on drugs, delirious, out of touch with reality, and physically and verbally aggressive," Lukasiewicz related to the Georgia Straight.

      Like the police, she said, nurses also have a duty to "serve and protect the public". However, unlike cops, she doesn't carry a gun and other weapons like a Taser, an instrument that delivers a jolt of 50,000 volts.

      The daughter of Polish immigrants who arrived in Canada about 30 years ago, Lukasiewicz hasn't previously been involved in protest actions. But on Saturday (November 24), starting at noon, she'll lead a rally in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery denouncing the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

      "I can't stand to do nothing," she said. "It just makes me sick. I go to work and I'm faced with people that are more agitated than Robert was in the video. I don't have any weapons with me, yet I can talk them down. I can de-escalate them. It disgusts me to know that police acted so quickly in Tasering him."

      Lukasiewicz suggested that the incident should lead to reforms, including changes to police training. "The RCMP trains in Regina for six months, and they're dealing with the public every day," she said. "I know chefs train longer than that, and they deal with food, not people. I trained for three years, and I'm dealing with the public."

      The B.C. Liberal government has announced that it is launching a public inquiry into the death of 40-year-old Dziekanski after he was Tasered and knelt upon while on the ground by four RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport on October 14.

      The inquiry will include a review of the use of the Taser, a weapon that Solicitor General John Les has noted was introduced for use in British Columbia during the term of the previous NDP government in the 1990s.

      Tom Smith, cofounder and chair of the board of Arizona-based manufacturer Taser International, estimates that anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 of these devices are in the hands of law enforcers throughout Canada.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Smith maintained that Tasers are nonlethal weapons. He also said that his company is sending out notices to various media outlets in Canada and the U.S., demanding that they stop citing the use of the device as the cause of Dziekanski's death.

      "We understand there's a lot of emotion in this case," Smith said. "It's one thing to say a gentleman died following a Taser jolt versus saying a Taser killed the gentleman. For us, that's a big distinction."

      Smith said that his company hopes its input will be asked for in the public inquiry, which an SFU assistant professor of criminology said should also cover broader issues like "police subculture".

      "There's a perception amongst a lot of police officers that the public is hostile towards them," SFU's David MacAlister told the Straight. "That creates an us-against-them mentality. It can create a mindset that can lead to all kinds of problems."

      One problem, MacAlister says, is that "quite often the police appear to escalate too quickly" and resolve situations through physical force.

      "They appear to be too willing to approach situations with a confrontative attitude rather than an open mind," he said.

      Murray Mollard, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, told the Straight that his group will press for the inquiry's terms of reference to be broad enough to include a system of police accountability.

      Mollard noted that, based on data compiled by the Coroners Service of B.C., a total of 267 people have died in police-related incidents between 1992 and 2007 throughout the province.

      The civil-liberties activist pointed out that, unlike in the Dziekanski case, which happened in front of a number of witnesses and was recorded on video, in a number of these other deaths it's only the police telling their version of what happened.

      "Often these deaths occur in small, little towns right throughout B.C. where there isn't the same kind of public exposure," Mollard said. "But nevertheless, there needs to be a full accounting of these deaths."