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Taser International loses bid to quash Braidwood conclusions

Sergeant Gord McNevan demonstrates the use of a taser at police headquarters in Peterborough, Ont.


A B.C. Supreme Court justice has rejected a Taser International challenge of the report of an inquiry into the Robert Dziekanski case, including the finding that tasers can kill.

Tuesday's written ruling is a blow for the Arizona-based weapons company, which has frequently gone to the courts to stand up for its products. In this case, it was seeking to block some findings of the Braidwood inquiry.

The inquiry, established by the B.C. government in 2008, looked into the police use of tasers and the October, 2007, death of Mr. Dziekanski during a confrontation at Vancouver International Airport with four Mounties.

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Mr. Justice Robert Sewell of the B.C. Supreme Court wrote in a ruling released Tuesday that he could find no merit in Taser's argument on the key point about tasers causing death.

Judge Sewell said it's clear to him that inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood had carefully looked at the opinions of medical experts and his findings were reasonable.

"It is quite clear to me that there were presentations made to the commissioner by medical experts and others to the effect that such weapons can cause serious harm and even death in exceptional circumstances," he wrote.

The judge said he could see nothing in Mr. Braidwood's report on the matter "on which I could base a conclusion that the commissioner's findings were unreasonable."

Of the overall work of the inquiry, Judge Sewell wrote: "I have concluded that the Study Commission fully discharged any duty of fairness which it owed to the petitioner with respect to the conduct of the mandate and with regard to its decision-making process."

Mr. Braidwood said in an interview that he was pleased with the ruling.

"Obviously, I am delighted. I might say it's what I expected. I also say that we did a great deal of work in order to reach the conclusions that we did," he said, noting he had a solid research staff. "I am very happy the judge found my reasons were supported by the evidence and were justified."

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He said the whole matter began with a tragedy, "but having said that, some good things have come out of it. I have been able to make proper recommendations as to the use of this weapon and they have all been accepted, both by the RCMP and our local government."

He noted that it has been his view that there is a place for the proper use for the taser.

David Neave, the Vancouver-based lawyer for Taser International, said in an interview Tuesday that he could not comment in detail on the ruling or the company's next step.

"We have received the decision this morning and are currently reviewing the decision carefully," Mr. Neave said.

Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, died after four RCMP officers approached him following reports that the recent arrival had begun acting erratically at the airport. The officers stunned him a number of times with a taser. Mr. Dziekanski died shortly after the confrontation.

Mr. Braidwood, a former B.C. Appeal Court justice, concluded that while Mr. Dziekanski was zapped five times and struggled while being cuffed, he suffered a surge of adrenaline amplified by the effects of the taser and the struggle with the officers that caused a cardiac arrest. He concluded Mr. Dziekanski was neither defiant or resistant upon approach by the officers, and that he did not present a threat when he brandished a stapler in frustration.

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Mr. Braidwood, in his final report, said the officers approached Mr. Dziekanski "as though responding to a bar-room brawl, and failed to shift gears when they realized they were dealing with an obviously distraught traveller."

Mr. Braidwood's report rejected Taser's claims that its product does not cause death, a finding that Taser said was unfair and should not be allowed to stand. Lawyers for Taser argued in court that the company did not have a chance to preview the report before its release and its conclusions were not factually supported.

In his final report, released in June, Mr. Braidwood called for far-reaching reforms to policing in British Columbia in order to restore public faith in the RCMP.

Richard Peck, a special prosecutor, is reopening the question of whether criminal charges should be laid against the four involved officers, taking a new look at a two-year-old decision not to lay charges. Mr. Peck indicated that he would be looking at officers' statements during the initial investigation and their subsequent testimony to the Braidwood inquiry.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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