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Saturday, December 15, 2007

RCMP to restrict taser use

December 15, 2007
IAN BAILEY, Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- The RCMP yesterday announced new limits to police taser use, declaring that the stun guns can only be employed on people displaying "combative behaviours" or actively resisting officers.

Commissioner William Elliott, announcing the new policy in the same week the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP called for related limits and reforms in taser policy, said he was open to additional reforms.

"I certainly do not rule out the possibility we will make further changes to our policies, training and practices as time goes on," Mr. Elliott told a news conference in Ottawa.

Mr. Elliott's announcement, the commission recommendations and an array of other reviews and reflections on police use of tasers come in the wake of the Oct. 14 death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after Mounties tasered him during a confrontation in the international-arrivals area of Vancouver airport.

Elsewhere in Canada, the PEI government has called for a review on the use of tasers, and New Brunswick will have a new policy on police taser use by the end of January. In Alberta, the government has issued new guidelines for taser use to "provide a consistent standard" for all officers, a government official said.

In British Columbia, where the RCMP polices most of the province on a contract basis, Solicitor-General John Les said he welcomed the RCMP's response to Mr. Kennedy's "balanced and reasonable" recommendations, and said his ministry would be working to harmonize the approach across municipal forces, such as in Vancouver and Victoria.

Some critics have called for a moratorium on taser use, but Mr. Elliott, despite his enthusiasm for new policies on managing tasers, yesterday continued to defend the devices as legitimate police tools.

"I would say the measures we are putting in place are significant and will have an impact with respect to what it is our officers do and don't do, but it's not a total rewrite of our policy nor is it anything akin [to] suggesting tasers are not an appropriate tool ... a very useful tool that promotes officer safety and public safety," he said.

"They should continue to be tools available for use of members of the RCMP in appropriate circumstances."

Other new RCMP policies announced yesterday include an enhanced data base on taser use, and a commitment to "establish more robust reporting and analytical processes" plus providing quarterly and annual reports on incidents involving tasers.

Paul Kennedy, head of the complaints commission, offered mixed reviews of Mr. Elliott's announcement.

"[It] is clearly less than we had recommended with respect to our first recommendation in our interim report that the taser be classified as an impact weapon for combative situations," Mr. Kennedy said in a statement.

"But we're encouraged by the fact that they recognize the inappropriate use of the taser in instances of passive resistance. We look forward to further clarification of active resistance."

Mr. Kennedy, who launched a review at the request of federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, had recommended the Mounties restrict their increasing use of tasers. A total of 2,800 tasers are being used by about 9,100 Mounties across Canada.

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