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Friday, April 18, 2008

No change to TransLink (Skytrain) taser use: police

There will be no change to the way Lower Mainland transit police use their Taser stun guns, Insp. Bob Houston said at a TransLink news conference on Friday. The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service, the police patrolling Greater Vancouver's TransLink system, defended their use of the stun guns at the news conference, saying that they are used only according to a written policy.

"We have tens of thousand of contacts with the public every year. We have deployed the Taser 10 times," Houston said. "We do not, have not and will never Taser those in our care for the non-payment of fares." When asked whether the Taser has damaged anyone’s health, he said: "All I can tell you is I believe, our department believes, Tasers are a safe and effective tool."

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint with the police complaints commissioner Thursday over TransLink constables' use of Tasers, which deliver an incapacitating electric shock to a targeted person.

Recently released documents confirm Houston's figure, showing that transit police have used Tasers on people 10 times since January 2007.

But the civil liberties association says transit police are turning to the Taser too quickly and for the wrong reasons. In its complaint filed with the complaint commissioner, the group says transit police are using the weapons in non-violent situations. In some cases, according to documents, police used stun guns on people who fled during fare checks.

"There's been a review … internally that suggests they have deployed their Tasers according to their policy," said the association's executive director, Murray Mollard. "I think on a second, closer look, it would be interesting to see if in fact the Taser use was not authorized by policy, and if it was, then clearly [we] want to take a run at a policy that we think would be inappropriate. We see how far police have come in their use of Tasers, and it has to stop somewhere," he said.

Transit police policy says officers are allowed to use their Tasers to control non-compliant, suicidal or violent people. The civil liberties association complaint takes issue with the phrase "non-compliant." A person's failure to obey transit police is insufficient to justify the use of a Taser, the association says.

In statement released Thursday, the police service said: "If the use of force is ever considered necessary to ensure our passengers are safe, then that event is subject to multi levels of internal review." The release went on to say, "On the rare occasions when the use of the Taser has been required, it has never generated a complaint."

Mollard said that seems to contradict the civil liberties association's own report into the 10 Taser incidents.

In response, TransLink said it won't discuss specific incidents while they remain under review.

Tasers have been condemned by the United Nations, whose Committee Against Torture determined the stun guns to be "a form of torture" that "can even cause death." Amnesty International says it has recorded 245 cases of Taser-related deaths.

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