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Thursday, March 27, 2008

RCMP reviews decision to censor taser reports

March 26, 2008
CBC News

The RCMP is re-examining its decision to strip crucial information from the Taser reports it recently made public. RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said late Wednesday that he's ordered a review that will determine whether more details should have been released. "It is anticipated that this review can be completed within two weeks," Elliott said in a statement.

The reports, released to the CBC and the Canadian Press last week through the Access to Information Act, chronicled details about how often RCMP officers are using their stun guns, known as Tasers.

But the documents did not include details about whether the people police were stunning were armed or suffering from mental illness. The records were also stripped of information about the precise date of each incident, the actions the officer took before using the Taser, and whether the stun gun caused any injuries.

RCMP forms released between 2002 and 2005 included those details.

The RCMP announced the review of the censoring only hours after it insisted the decision to censor was the right one. Sgt. Sylvie Tremblay said early Wednesday that the Mounties had released all the information they could. "The RCMP is committed to respecting the public's right to know while upholding the law and protecting the privacy rights of individuals," Tremblay said in an interview.

The decision to censor the information had critics accusing the RCMP of secrecy all week. Even Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day asked for a review and was assured one was coming, a spokesman for Day said Wednesday.

Advocates for more openness say that revealing more information won't violate people's rights, as the RCMP already blocks the names and addresses of the people hit by Taser guns.

"I think the RCMP, by doing this, is losing a lot of credibility on the way they handle the Taser," said Bloc Québécois MP Serge Ménard. "It makes us more suspicious."

The reports released by the RCMP last week show that Mounties across the country drew or threatened to draw their Tasers more than 1,400 times last year, compared with 597 times in 2005.

Since 2003, at least 20 people died in Canada after being hit by a police officer's Taser. Manufacturer Taser International says its device has never been directly blamed for a death, although it has been cited as a contributing factor in several cases.

Amnesty International is among observers who have called for a suspension of Taser use pending an independent, comprehensive study of risks and benefits.

The weapon is hugely popular with police who say it's a much safer and efficient alternative to the handgun, baton or pepper spray.

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