Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Canada Taser Update: An interview with the videographer who's sueing the RCMP (rush transcript; includes audio)

From CBC's "As it happens" (audio from this interview can be found here)

For the Mounties, there is mounting pressure -- over a few minutes of videotape. The RCMP now faces a lawsuit over video that was shot at the Vancouver International Airport about two weeks ago -- when police tasered Robert Dziekanski, who was visiting Canada from Poland. He later died. The RCMP convinced the owner of the tape to hand it over, and they promised to give it right back. They have not.

Paul Pritchard is the man who shot the tape and launched the lawsuit [against the RCMP], and we reached him in Victoria.

(rush transcript follows)

- Mr Pritchard, can you tell us what you actually captured on film at the [Vancouver] airport when mister Dziekanski died.

I was filming, I was sleeping at the airport actually, I had missed a connecting flight so I was right in the international arrival lobby there. I woke up to the sound of banging on glass, that's what kind of startled me and I woke up.

There was a man there obviously kind of confused trying to get back into the international airport [section], yet he had all his suitcases with him which was kind of strange to see.

We stood up and watched this happen for twenty-five minutes and called security a couple of times. Nobody came.

People kept trying to talk to him, trying to get him out of there, trying to calm him down, and that's what brought the agitation-level so high.

Two security guys showed up, I thought it was the police, I have them.. the camera is rolling at this point.

- Why did you take out your camera at this point?

That's funny, I had totally forgotten that I had the camera with me, I had all my bags with me. Once [Robert Dziekanski] got into the isolated area, he just stood at the doors and barricaded all the suitcases at the doors [..]. He would open the glass door and yell something out [..] one word in Polish and kept saying this one word and sticking out his arm. [...]

I said to the guy next to me, "why am I not filming this?" He said "you got a camera" and I said "yes" and I grabbed my bag and started taping everything.

- At what point did the RCMP arrive?

Right after security, within a minute after security [had arrived].

- And what happened?

Security ran up to the door and stopped when they saw [Robert Dziekanski]. He had a chair in his hand and put it down, he had a keyboard in his hand and he put it down, and security didn't know what to do.

Police right away ran in, three big cops ran in right after.

I heard one of the policeman say "Can I Taser him?" or "Should I Taser him?" .
The reply was "yes"

He hopped over the gates into the passage way, through the doors, the three of them, kind of made a triangle toward him. There was a desk behind the door. [Robert Dziekanski] tried to move behind it. He made no threat that I saw, toward [the police]. One [RCMP officer] followed [Robert Dziekanski] behind the desk; the other two [RCMP officers] followed the other way and then they just tasered him.

-How long after the RCMP arrived did they taser Mr. Dziekanski?

Right away, within ten seconds of entering the same room as him. Right away.

- And all of this you've got on tape?

All of this is on tape, yes.

- When did the RCMP approach you to get your tape?

Quite a while afterwards. A security [guard] saw me filming, told me to stop, tried to get me to stop. I refused of course.

- Why did he tell you to stop?

I don't know, he just [wanted me to] stop taping, he made these gestures for me to quit. Obviously I know my right and I kept the camera going. After the police tasered him there was a struggle on the floor and they handcuffed him and then he was laying there, what we thought unconscious for quite a while. This is when I stopped filming him. Nothing was happening, they were just laying beside him. He was just kind of laying there, with no movement coming from him. [...]

At this point one of the RCMP officers jumped up and ran out of the room and I heard "code red" being jelled. The officer left the airport, and it was a good 8 minutes, 5 to 10 minutes anyway, before medical help arrived. As soon as they came in they started to give him CPR right away. This made me wonder why CPR wasn't administered earlier.

-You had stopped filming earlier then this...

I had stopped filming a few minuted after he had stopped moving. I didn't resume filming when CPR was administered, for respect.

- When did the RCMP ask for the tape?

I was dealing with a couple of different detectives. They told we are going to need a copy, and this was no problem [for me]; I was fully cooperating with them. At first they told us that we were going down to the station to get a copy made. I was going to go with them, and I would get my footage back [right after]. That was the plan. Then he comes back saying, "what if we just take it - we don't have the computers necessary to [make the copy], it's going to take us a day or two to do it - what if we just take it from you and we will get it back from you within 48 hours?" [..]

I said "Yes, if I'm getting it back, that's no problem. I'm here to help, I'm on the good side here." So [I] had a verbal agreement [with Constable Mulhall] that within 48 hours [the video] was going to be returned to me. It was until the next day that I got the phone call [from Constable Mulhall] saying "Sorry, we're going to return your camera but were going to [withhold your] footage: You're are not getting [the footage] back for 1.5 to 2.5 years. "

- Did they tell you why they wouldn't be giving [your footage] back?

They just said that it would interfere with the investigation. It didn't really made any sense to me.

- Were you compelled to give the tape over to [the RCMP]?

No. I knew I didn't have to, I know my right[s]. I knew it was my camera and that I didn't have to. As I said, I was trying to help out the situation. I wasn't against [the RCMP] in this; we're all trying to do the right thing. With the promise that I would get the video back I had no problem helping him out. If I had know that I would not be getting the tape back, I wouldn't have given it to them, and that's the bottom line.

- So you regret doing it now?

Of course I regret doing it, yes.

- Do you think the police want to prevent the public from seeing the incident on tape?

At first the RCMP called back and I sought legal advice as my right as a Canadian citizen. They've got my possession, and what can I do? I talked to Paul Pierson, my lawyer, about it. He said "they can't do that".

We wrote a formal letter saying that we want [the footage] back. The RCMP said "OK, no problem, we're going to give it back". So [my lawyer and I] thought this was all done. Then we received a call saying "Sorry, we're retracting our statements. We are going back on what we said (again), and we can't just give it back to you".

- So what do you make of the RCMP's concerns that you might compromise their investigation if witnesses saw this tape.

This is what I don't understand. They're saying they don't want to taint witness's stories and they don't want to taint other people's opinion on what happened, but, what is on tape IS what happened. Maybe [this tape] will change witness's [opinion] who got it wrong, but it's all on tape, it's all there, crystal clear zoom in zoom out footage, it is what happened. [..] The speculation and guesswork will all be over as soon as everybody sees it.

- And because it is not edited but all in real time, you can actually see how long after the police arrived that he was actually tasered. [This] is the issue at question right now, how long [the RCMP] actually tried to help things before they actually used there tasers.

That part is crystal clear, yes.

- Would you consider to make the commitment to not make the tape public until the investigation is over?

I don't know. Once it comes back, I want to give it to Mr. Dziekanski mother and his lawyer. Obviously they want a copy. My first thing is to get it out to the media, but if it is comprimising other situation then...

- Have you met Mr. Dziekanski mother?

I haven't met her, I've only seen her on television and my lawyer and her lawyer have been in contact.

- How distressed was it when you saw her statement that she was trying for 18 hours to get to see her son and then....

That's kind of what made me feel compelled to do this as my duty [..]
- Listen to the whole conversation at the CBC website: As it happens
- More at G&M: Taser Photographer sues RCMP

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Canada Taser Update: Taser photographer sues RCMP to get his video of Vancouver's Taser killing back

Yes, I know, the police is our friend and wants the best for all of us. But how do you explain the following?

Paul Pritchard says he took high-quality video of the Oct. 14 "incident" (emphasis mine) where police confronted 40-year-old Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport and just minutes later was dead.

The Victoria lawyer [Paul Pearson], acting for Mr. Pritchard, says the video is an excellent version of events, clearly indicating what happened in the minutes before police arrived, the use of the taser [...].

[The Victoria lawyer] says his client willingly surrendered the video to RCMP and was assured it would be returned, but was contacted the next day and told investigators would not hand it back.
I'm sure we can trust the RCMP when they'll say it's in the best public interest to withhold the video (wink wink), but what about the photographer, doesn't he have any "rights"?
“Mr. Pritchard has no difficulty whatsoever with the police having a copy of the footage that he took,” Mr. Pearson said. “The difference here is police have taken the original and aren't giving it back.”

(from CBC)Pritchard's lawyer, Paul Pearson, has filed documents in B.C. Supreme Court demanding that at least a copy of the video be given to his client.

"It's not the subject, as I understand it, currently of a criminal investigation. It's not a court exhibit. There is in fact very old law that says if you have somebody else's property in your possession and they ask for it back, you have to give it back to them."

The guy shot the video, handed it over to the police (indeed, in the best public interest), and now he wants back what is rightfully his, his own copy of the tape. RCMP, it's time to give it back before becoming suspect of next cover up.

- Globe and Mail: Taser Photographer Sues RCMP
- CBC: Police say they won't return witness's video of airport taser incident

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Naomi Wolf - The End of America (video)

Interesting video from an interesting lady. Watch the talk she gave on October 11, 2007 at the University of Washington, Seattle:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pigs of War: Donald Rumsfeld - Human Rights Groups File Torture Suit against Rumsfeld

It certainly looks like Rumsfeld will have a hard time traveling to Europe in the years to come. There have already been war-crimes cases filed against Rumsfeld in Germany (one was dismissed, one is being appealed), in Argentina, Spain and Sweden. Today France and the US have been added to the list:

French, German and US human rights groups have filed a lawsuit in France accusing former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld of torture during the "war on terror."

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), the French League for Human Rights (LDH), the US Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Germany's European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed the joint suit before a Paris prosecutor on Thursday.
With the increasing amount of evidence on Rumsfeld's torture practices, these human rights groups actually have a strong case:
In a statement posted on the FIDH website, the groups say that during his time as defense secretary, Rumsfeld authorized interrogation techniques that led to rights abuses in US-run detention centers at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, as well as elsewhere.

The rights groups notably cite three memorandums signed by Rumsfeld between October 2002 and April 2003 "legitimizing the use of torture" including the "hooding" of detainees, sleep deprivation and the use of dogs.The group also has testimony from Janis Karpinski -- the one-time commander of US military prisons in Iraq -- to bolster its claims. more
- Deutsche Welle: Human Rights Groups File Torture Suit against Rumsfeld
- Democracy Now!: On Visit to France, Donald Rumsfeld Hit with Lawsuit for Ordering, Authorizing Torture
- New York Times: Torture Complaint Filed against Rumsfeld
- Wikipedia: Donald Rumsfeld

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Canada Taser Update: Mounties shouldn't handle investigation - Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

The Vancouver Sun has a good opinion piece by Ian Mulgrew today:

RICHMOND - The RCMP's handling of the Taser-related death of a Polish immigrant Sunday seems as mindless as the offensive attempts to whitewash the shooting of Houston mill worker Ian Bush.

Mountie spokesman Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre and the rest of the force just don't get it -- they are not a law unto themselves.

That the Horsemen are investigating themselves in this situation raises the same concerns that turned the October 2005 death of Bush into a scandal.

From the moment Robert Dziekanski of Pieszyce, Poland, died in the customs area of Vancouver International Airport, Sgt. Lemaitre has been running damage control.

Just as he did in the Bush case.

Bush died inside the Houston RCMP detachment after he was shot in the head during a scuffle with a Mountie who had arrested him for having an open bottle of beer outside a hockey game.

Lemaitre would have us believe that Tasering the distraught Dziekanski was the only way of dealing with the situation.

That's disingenuous.

What's worse is that while quickly jumping to the defence of their members, the Mounties treated the Dziekanski family like dirt.

How would you like to be told police had found your missing son, but when you arrived to see him, they told you he was dead?

That's what the RCMP did to Dziekanski's mother. They were just as insensitive with Bush's mom. Can these guys even spell c-o-m-p-a-s-s-i-o-n?

Meanwhile, the force rushes therapists and lawyers to officers caught up in such incidents because of the trauma.

According to Lemaitre, Dziekanski came to the attention of airport security because he was agitated, pounding on windows and throwing around furniture.

The three officers Lemaitre said responded couldn't use pepper spray or their batons because there were too many people around.

Sima Ashrafina, a medical lab assistant from North Vancouver, saw it go down differently.

First of all, she says there were few people around -- it was 1:30 in the morning.

Secondly, she says five officers were present, two of whom Tasered the unarmed man. In her view the response by the RCMP was "too harsh."

While Lemaitre says the officers only fired two bursts of the Taser, she says she heard four blasts.

Since she's not facing lawsuits or potential charges for causing a death, I can't imagine why she would lie.

She was there -- I believe her, a disinterested observer.

The force's need to stand behind its officers appears clearly at odds with its duty to the public in these incidents and breeds suspicion.

I think it's obvious independent investigations of deaths involving police would dispel such concerns and prevent clouds of distrust gathering over the RCMP.

Regardless, we need to have an inquiry into the use of Tasers.

Dziekanski was the sixth person in B.C. to die in the past five years after being zapped by the Taser's 50,000 volts -- one of 16 people across the country who have died after such a shock.

Amnesty International says there have been nearly 200 deaths across the continent during the same period following Taser use.

Of course, the company that makes Tasers claims the deaths were caused not by its device but by drugs, a pre-existing medical condition or "excited delirium."

I love that term -- which is not a recognized medical or psychiatric condition. It has been used over the last decade to explain deaths in police custody, but is so vague it appears to mean little more than your heart is racing.

It's a bogus label that indicates little more than the person was distressed and ramped up -- could be from fear, a physical or mental health problem, intoxicants or, God forbid, an attack of acute claustrophobia from being stuck for hours in customs.

That's why there are urgent calls for higher standards to be imposed on the use of the Taser and demands for more training for those who use the controversial weapon.

The bottom line is at the moment police don't know what the outcome will be when they fire a Taser. What we do know is they are taking a chance with the target's life.

Consider the Taser's history.

The Taser was invented in 1974 by NASA scientist Jack Cover who named it after Tom Swift, a fictional inventor in a series of sci-fi adventure novels. Taser is an acronym for the "Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle."

Cute, huh?

Originally it was considered a firearm because it relied on gunpowder to fire the electric prods.

In the early 1990s, that changed.

The Taser was redesigned to use a nitrogen propellant so it would no longer be classified as a firearm.

Since then, the company has built a lucrative monopoly through the use of former cops and army officers to tout the weapons.

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department was among the first to sign up for the new product and thousands of police and corrections departments have followed suit.

Taser International's success story unfortunately overlooks the mounting body count.

The company says its product had nothing to do with those fatalities -- the deaths can not be attributed to the Taser.

But I don't think that's the issue: People are dying after Taser use and we need to recognize and respond to that.

Whether it is from being zapped or a combination of factors doesn't matter in my opinion -- too many people have died.

If Tasers are going to be used by police, they need to be placed high up on what the cops call the "continuum of force" model. They should not be a first response.

For Lemaitre to insist responding RCMP in this instance could not use pepper spray, their batons or hand-to-hand combat training is ridiculous.

Any bouncer in a downtown nightclub deals with similarly unarmed unruly patrons on a weekly basis.

Why could a handful of police officers not take down one unarmed man without resorting to this weapon? This is responsible policing?

Before they drew their Tasers, the Mounties should have tried other options. We deserve to know why they didn't.

- Vancouver Sun: Mounties shouldn't handle investigation

Monday, October 15, 2007

Canada Taser update: 16 people died in last 5 years after being tasered by Canadian Police

If there are still people out there that think the Taser gun is harmless, then think again. According to Mr. Ward, sixteen people have died in Canada (6 in BC, that's 36% in one province!) after being shot with a Taser gun:

April 19, 2003: Terrance Hanna, 51, Burnaby, B.C.

July 22, 2003: Clay Willey, 33, Prince George, B.C.

Sept. 28, 2003: Clark Whitehouse, 34, Whitehorse, Yukon

March 23, 2004: Perry Ronald, 28, Edmonton

May 1, 2004: Roman Andreichikov, 25, Vancouver

May 13, 2004: Peter Lamonday, 38, London, Ont.

June 23, 2004: Robert Bagnell, 44, Vancouver

July 17, 2004: Jerry Knight, 29, Mississauga

Aug. 8, 2004: Samuel Truscott, 43, Kingston, Ont.

May 5, 2005: Kevin Geldart, 34, Moncton, N.B.

June 30, 2005: Gurmeet Sandhu, 41, Surrey, B.C.

July 1, 2005: James Foldi, 39, Beamsville, Ont.

July 15, 2005: Paul Sheldon Saulnier, 42, Digby, N.S.

Dec. 24, 2005: Alesandro Fiacco, 33, Edmonton

Aug. 30, 2006: Jason Doan, 28, Red Deer, Alta.

Oct. 14, 2007: Unidentified male, Vancouver airport

When will this stop?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Vancouver RCMP uses Taser and kills man at Vancouver Airport

A taser gun has been used today at the Vancouver International Airport and resulted in the death of a man who, according to the police, was out-of-control:

RCMP have confirmed they used a Taser on an out-of-control man who died at the Vancouver International Airport early Sunday morning.

Police were called to the international arrival area of the airport at about 1:28 a.m. on Sunday after airport security officers were unable to calm the man down and his level of violence was escalating.

The man, a Caucasian in his late 30s to early 40s, was yelling in an eastern European accent, sweating profusely, throwing chairs and pounding on windows, according to police. [...]

When the man picked up an object from a counter, a trained officer pulled a conducted energy weapon -- commonly known as a Taser -- from his holster and deployed it.

This is not the first time someone dies after being tortured with a Taser. Amnesty International has confirmed 245 Taser-related deaths since they began research in 2001.

- more information on why taser-torture should be outlawed.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dion 's 'deep' corporate tax cuts build the road the fascism

Who thought that Dion would be so openly, what's the word here, neoliberal?

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion pledged to reduce the federal corporate tax rate on Friday to further bolster economic growth and fuel competition with foreign markets.During a speech at the Economic Club of Toronto, Dion said the previous Liberal government lowered the rate from 28 per cent to 19 per cent. [...]

"What I have said for our economic prosperity, what will be especially important is to have a competitive tax system and to have a way to decrease our corporate tax, deeper than what was planned," Dion said after his speech at a downtown hotel.

Right-wing corporatism would be another way to describe the direction, I suppose. And we all know how that story finished.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Scott Tribe, Jason Cherniak, and the ProgBlog Code of Conduct

I consider most verbal displeasures expressed at ProgBlog symptoms of mainly three “problems”:

- perceived authoritarian behaviour by the ProgBlog moderators
- conservativeness at ProgBlog
- petty partisanship by some of the members
Sure a code of conduct can stifle some of the frustrations by force, but is there really no other way to deal with these problems?

Here are some simple solutions that I came up with:
a. make progblog ultra transparent, as progressives would envision the ultimate transparent and responsible government

b. oust those blogs/bloggers/moderators who continue to adhere to a right of centre political agenda (most obvious by promoting anti-social policies). This could possibly be done through use of a popular vote among the PB members, or some other transparent and democratic form. Perhaps give ousted bloggers the ability to reapply if they still feel they deserve to be part of PB*.

c. exclude members who predominantly post to promote their party (there are other blogrolls for that type of propaganda, not at PB please) and make it mandatory for future moderators be non-partisan (use grandfather clause).
That's about as far as I would go.

The above would make ProgBlog more transparent and accountable (suggested by many), and probably far less combative resulting in a more coherent community of bloggers.

I realize fully well that my suggestions will never be picked up by the moderators. Not that I think that Scott and some of his tribe is not “lefty” enough (Scott considers himself to be on the left side of the Liberal spectrum) but because the chief in question is a partisan Liberal, and partisans by definition are biased and loyal to their party and party members; that's what partisanship is all about.

My proposed code would give ProgBlog members the power to scrutinize and oust blogs (up until now the exclusive right for moderators), likely resulting in the removal of several Libloggers, especially those that daily spout their partisan, right of centre propaganda into the PB blogosphere (no names needed, we all know who you are).

This will prove to be inconceivable to a partisan Liberal moderator. Furthermore, chief Scott owns ProgBlog...

My two cents, for what it's worth.

*I realize that b. Could turn into a cycle of dumping and adding to ProgBlog, but who said that any democratic model would be easy?

My post "ProgBlog's CoC, Tutu and the Right the Offend" also deals with the issue in another light.

- Wiktionary: partisanship
- ProgBlog Proposed Code of Conduct

ProgBlog's CoC, Tutu and the Right the Offend

I apologize to all ProgBlog members for not posting earlier on the Code of Conduct (CoC) but the latest developments in my own personal life have kept me fairly busy (insiders know what I'm talking about).

First of all I want to praise the PB moderators for giving members the ability to contribute to a code of conduct. I do have the following criticism and they deal with the phrase about religion. The following suggestion was made:

A member of the Progressive Bloggers shall be determined to be conducting themselves in an unacceptable manner when they submit material to the Progressive Bloggers, automatically or otherwise, which: [...]
(b) contains [..] religiously offensive language.

Doesn't freedom of speech include the right to offend? Who doesn't remember Salman Rushdie's

"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist"
Personally I have no problem with the fact that many religious people conspire regularly (Christians, Muslims, Jews etc.), express their superiority (by those same people or their leaders) over other believe systems, simply because they're the followers of the “right” religion.

I have no problem with religion BECAUSE I'm allowed and able to differ with those particular religious believes.

And the ability to differ HAS to include the right to offend, because “offensiveness” is subjective; it completely depends on the party who receives the comment, in how it will perceive it.

The recent dealings of the St. Thomas University and Desmond Tutu comes to mind. Tutu wasn't allowed to speak, because of a speech he had given several years ago, in which he had compared the powerful Jewish lobby to other major powers that people had to overcome: "Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin". Although Tutu's statement is clearly not anti-semitic, the remarks were still perceived as offensive by some Jews (especially the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas) and therefore enough reason for the University of St. Thomas to cancel a planned speech. From a progressive point of view, where the free flow of information is paramount, University of St. Thomas' behaviour is unacceptable.

In a free and progressive society, people have the right to their own believes, including their own religion. But since religion itself can be perceived as offensive (for example: I do find most religions' take on so-called pagans quite offensive), there has to be the right to offend by those of different believes or believe systems. Only then are we, all believers and non-believers, on an equal footing.

- ProgBlog proposed CoC
- Wikipedia: Desmond Tutu
- St. Thomas won't host Tutu
- BBC: The right to be downright offensive