Cops have an expression they use when they're about to zap somebody with a 50,000-volt Taser.
"Well, let's go and light him up," they say, according to Doug MacKay-Dunn, a 30-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department.
Now in his third term as councillor of the District of North Vancouver, MacKay-Dunn is a vocal critic of Tasers and the indiscriminate use of the devices by police.
More than two years ago, council approved his motion asking the local RCMP detachment to report on its use of Tasers. When it came in, "the report, quite frankly, was woefully inadequate," MacKay-Dunn recalled for the Georgia Straight.
The motion was prompted by an incident in Deep Cove wherein four RCMP officers tasered a young man. He was already lying on the ground when he was jolted four times. He didn't die.
MacKay-Dunn filed his motion—which also included supporting Amnesty International's call for a moratorium on Taser use—in October 2006.
About a year later, an incident similar to that in Deep Cove occurred at the Vancouver International Airport. Four RCMP officers confronted Robert Dziekanski in the early morning of October 14, 2007. After falling to the ground following a first Taser blast, the 40-year-old newly arrived Polish immigrant was stunned three more times, according to the officer with his finger on the trigger. He died moments later. (A previous RCMP report stated that officers tasered Dziekanski five times.)
"It is my belief and it's my strong belief, and I've said this publicly, that Taser International sold the RCMP and other police departments a bill of goods," MacKay-Dunn said. "They basically marketed that instrument to the point where in order to increase their sales volume, they convinced everyone that it's perfectly safe."
Const. Kwesi Millington is the RCMP officer who shot Dziekanski with a Taser. Appearing for the first time before the Braidwood commission of inquiry on March 2, the 32-year-old former fitness trainer testified that he zapped the Polish man after the latter grabbed a stapler.
Commission counsel Art Vertlieb asked why the four officers—who were all armed with pistols, batons, and pepper spray and were wearing body armour—didn't wait a second or two more. Millington said that with a stapler in Dziekanski's hand, he feared for his and his fellow officers' safety.
Vertlieb pushed: what if Dziekanski didn't grab a stapler? At that point, commissioner Thomas Braidwood stepped in to tell Vertlieb that he was getting too deep into conjecture.
When cops start getting scared of staplers, according to Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward, it's time for the public to demand a better deal.
"I'm not sure if I would say it's laughable, because it was such a tragic circumstance," Ward told the Straight. "And perhaps what we, as the public who are paying these police officers, should be doing is to ensure that we get braver individuals to act as our law-enforcement officials."
Ward has represented several clients in cases involving alleged police wrongdoing, and he says he is familiar with a common line when police justify their use of force.
"It's entirely predictable that the police officers would say that they were in fear," he said. "However, in my view, it's rather embarrassing to the RCMP that each of these four armed, young, fit male police officers would be afraid of a man with a stapler."
Former Vancouver police inspector Dave Jones has seen the video of the incident, and he asserted that it's easy for many to suggest now that the officers should have done otherwise.
"I have the same reaction," Jones told the Straight. "I saw quick, sudden movement that the individual who died made, which I now guess is the grabbing of the stapler."
Crown counsel announced last year that no criminal charges will be laid against the four RCMP officers involved in the Dziekanski incident.
"None of those officers went to that ever expecting that somebody is going to die," Jones said. "They were trusting, perhaps, in the safety of the Taser."
The Braidwood inquiry takes a break starting March 9 and resumes hearings on March 23.
Taser International still making a killing
> Fourth-quarter 2008 revenues: $26.4 million
> Total 2008 revenues: $92.8 million
> Debt by year end: zero
> International sales' share of total net sales: 28 percent
> Tasers shipped to the U.K. government in fourth quarter 2008: 5,000
> Tasers ordered by the Korean National Police Agency: 550
> Tasers shipped to the Brazilian National Guard: 4,000
Source: Taser International's fourth-quarter 2008 financial statement and Web site