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Rights group closely watches investigation into B.C. RCMP stun gun death of 43-year-old

'The state is entitled to use reasonable force, but only as much as is absolutely necessary': BCCLA

An unrelated RCMP investigation near Chilliwack, B.C. in this 2015 file photo.

DARRYL DYCK / The Canadian Press

An unrelated RCMP investigation near Chilliwack, B.C. in this 2015 file photo.

As independent investigators continue to look into Saturday's police Taser death in Chilliwack, a civil liberties group is resurfacing questions about stun guns in B.C.

Metro has learned the man was 43, and was making a supervised visit to his child when, according to the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., attempted to take the child away before a male civilian intervened around 2 p.m.

"There was an intended access visit being excecuted by the deceased male," the IIO B.C.'s chief civilian director, Ron MacDonald, told Metro. "The access visit was going to be supervised by a female, however he left the area with the child.

"A male member of the public … came to give aid. He thought the man was leaving with the child inappropriately so he took steps. The child was taken to safety, and the police came along around 2 p.m."

Few other details about the death are publicly available yet, except that RCMP officers attended Vedder Road, and one officer used his Taser, or conducted energy weapon (CEW), against him, before he died.

"In the case like the one in Chilliwack, it's just not clear at this point whether the Taser was the right tool to use compared to a more lethal firearm," said B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director Josh Paterson in a phone interview, "or was it used when another tactic like deescalation might have been better suited.

"That will be up the the (Independent Investigations Office of B.C.) and potentially the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner to look into."

But coming just after the 10-year anniversary of B.C. RCMP killing Polish visit Robert Dziekanski, 40, in October 2007 — and three years after one officer involved was convicted of perjury in the case — the Chilliwack death has resurrected a debate decades in the making in B.C.: Should cops have more so-called "less-than-lethal" weapons to subdue suspects, or do such weapons risk replacing deescalation techniques?

"There continues to be concern about the use of CEWs," Paterson explained. "It's become clear — especially after all the publicity particularly from the Dziekanski commission of inquiry — that tasers are not necessarily a non-lethal weapon."

But Paterson said that, despite B.C. police forces buying more and more Tasers for their members, last year there was also a reported fall in their use, at least in Vancouver.

"On the face of it that's encouraging," he noted, "but it wasn't clear to us whether or not meant other kinds of force were being used.

"Any time the state is using force aganist someone, there are obvious civil liberties concerns; the state is entitled to use reasonable force, but only as much as is absolutely necessary to get control of a situation and ensure the safety of the public, of officers, and of the individual subject."

Paterson said a growing challenge being addressed by various forces is officers responding to people with mental illness. Earlier this month, the B.C. Coroner's Service held an inquest into the police shooting death of Tony Du, 51, in East Vancouver in 2014. He was waving a wood plank near a busy intersection when police arrived, confronted him, fired a "less-than-lethal" bean bag gun at him, before shooting him with sidearms.

The jury called on Vancouver Police Department to carry first aid supplies to treat gunshot wounds, for the IIOBC to release more information to the public, and more training and early warning systems for responding to people with mental illness.

Correction (Feb. 28): An earlier version of this story misspelled Ron MacDonald's first name.

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