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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Use of stun guns in Nova Scotia reflects patchwork of standards across Canada

March 6, 2008
The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Conducted Energy Device (CED) Review

HALIFAX — The latest in a series of provincial reviews of police use of stun guns shows police departments in Nova Scotia receive "significantly" differing levels of training and follow a patchwork of rules on when to fire the weapons.

Civil liberties groups say the review adds to evidence that Canada has inconsistent training and rules for use of the 50,000-volt guns. "There's really no standard with respect to police forces in Canada - forces are all over the map," Murray Mollard, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said in an interview.

"It means different forces deploy in different ways, and we've seen real outcomes in terms of damage on the streets of Canada."

The Nova Scotia probe says RCMP and Correctional Services officers receive a 16-hour course, while municipal police and sheriffs in Nova Scotia are trained for eight hours.

The provincial Justice Department review also found that police use of the devices has shot up 80 per cent between 2005 and 2007 - to 182 incidents last year as police departments acquired the weapons.

The review also found big differences in procedures, including:

-Some police forces require notification of a supervisor before Tasers are fired, while others require supervisors to be informed later.

-The RCMP manual is the only one in the province that calls for special procedures when confronting a person is in excited delirium, a state of heart-pounding agitation.

-Some forces caution against using the device more than once, while others contain no reference to the topic.

Cecil Clarke, Nova Scotia's justice minister, called for the review in November following the death of a 45-year-old Dartmouth man about 30 hours after he was Tasered by Halifax police.

Howard Hyde, a man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested for spousal abuse. He had struggled with jail guards moments before his death in a Dartmouth jail. The Nova Scotia review was one of several across Canada ordered following the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after he was Tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14. Reviews were also ordered in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and nationally by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Research Centre.

In December, the RCMP watchdog said "usage creep" of Tasers by police forces is a "major concern." It argued the weapons were often being used to subdue people who "do not pose a threat of grievous bodily harm or death." The commission recommended revamped Taser training and stricter reporting requirements.

There are now more than 6,500 Tasers in use across Canada by police and correctional officers. Since 2003, about 20 Canadians have died following stun gun incidents.

The maker of the most popular brand of stun gun, Taser International, has long insisted Tasers are safe and cannot be blamed for any deaths.

In December, the Quebec government ordering police in the province to limit their use of Taser guns.

After a review in New Brunswick, officers there were told they will have to be certified in the use of Tasers once a year, up from once every three years.

Michel Samson, Nova Scotia's Liberal justice critic, said the evidence suggests the province should impose a moratorium on stun guns until the differences in procedures and training are resolved. "Until we have a universal policy in place, these Tasers shouldn't be used," he said.

John Tackaberry, a spokesman for Amnesty International, also said a moratorium would be the best approach until "the highest possible standards are applied."

Warren Allmand, a former federal solicitor general and past president of the International Centre for Human Rights, has said a full, independent medical and technical review of all stun guns is needed.

Nova Scotia's justice minister said he won't be rushed into any decisions and he doesn't expect to ban the use of Tasers. "When we go forward we'll be looking for the most effective way of using a Taser-type device," Clarke said. A panel of external experts, including representatives from law enforcement and scientific communities, will use the review to provide recommendations to the minister.

Meanwhile, Halifax Police Chief Frank Beazley defended his department's training program as "quite adequate," even if it is shorter than the RCMP's program. "What you have to look at is what the RCMP put in their training package," he said. "They train on Taser and then they take the second day and they do first aid, they do pepper spray use . . . Their two days is not just Taser." He also suggested identical procedures may not be practical for police officers facing violent confrontations. "At the end of the day, if somebody else's life is at risk, or your life is at risk, you have to make the decision. That decision will vary in each situation."

Taser is the trade name for what police usually call a "conductive energy device." The weapon fires a probe that delivers an electrical shock for five seconds, stunning the target's neuro-muscular system and usually causing him to fall from severe pain and muscle contractions.

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