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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

EDITORIAL: RCMP fails on taser data

March 26, 2008
Chronicle Herald (Halifax)

WHAT is the RCMP hiding?

In response to a request from the Canadian Press and CBC, the Mounties delayed – for 15 months, leading to an official complaint – making public thousands of incident reports on police Taser use over the last seven years. The RCMP also removed nearly all details on the reports, including whether the suspect was armed, measures the officer may have taken before using the Taser and injuries to the suspect as a result of being stunned.

All these data were previously available to the public.

The RCMP’s explanation for the censorship – details were removed because of privacy concerns and due to ongoing investigations – is laughable. As Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh put it bluntly: "That’s hogwash."

How is an unnamed person’s privacy involved in knowing what an officer did to try to defuse a situation before using a Taser? How is privacy connected to whether someone Tasered had a weapon?

The answer is: It isn’t. What seems more likely is the RCMP, stung by criticism of their use of Tasers in the past, opted to avoid public scrutiny. For example, a previous media review of Taser reports, when details were available, had showed three of four people Tasered by police were unarmed.

Even as the RCMP seemed to try to hide data from the public, the reports revealed Taser use has more than doubled in recent years. That troubling rise makes the need to scrutinize Tasers more pressing, not less.

An RCMP spokesman argued other accountability systems are already in place to oversee police actions, such as the courts, coroners’ inquests and the complaint process. But why should the public have to go to court, wait for an inquiry or lodge a complaint to find out if Mounties are using Tasers appropriately?

Canadians far too often hear about questionable uses of Tasers by police forces in this country. RCMP assurances that internal reviews of the data show the weapons are being used properly offer no comfort. Police often claim Tasers have saved 4,000 lives since being introduced in Canada in 1999. But such statistics themselves seem doubtful. That number – 4,000 – is almost as many people as were actually murdered in that period. Where is the evidence for the police claim? We also note Taser International, the manufacturer, has cited the same statistic in the U.S.

The RCMP should release the data about Tasers or be ordered to do so by its political masters.

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