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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

RCMP 'must learn' from handling of taser reports, commissioner says

April 15, 2008
CBC News

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott admitted Tuesday that mistakes were made in handling — and keeping secret — reports about Taser use by the force. "Frankly, we didn't handle this very well," Elliott said Tuesday during a speech in Gatineau, Que. "We should not have needed two kicks at the can. We must learn from that, and do better."

Elliott was responding to criticism in late March of how the force released more than 4,000 Taser reports. The documents were released to both CBC News and The Canadian Press, but were mostly blank. The RCMP then spent two weeks reviewing whether they could release further details. A second release was made on Monday, but those documents, too, were heavily censored, making it impossible to determine if RCMP members are using the stun gun appropriately.

Elliott said the RCMP has been forced to make tough choices. "Our motivation is not to avoid criticism or controversy by exercising our discretion one way or the other, but to strike an appropriate balance between sometimes competing interests like privacy and the public's right to know," he said Tuesday. "I believe we need to do a better job in assessing and factoring in the public interest."

But Elliott said some information about Taser use cannot be made public. And he noted the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has access to full versions of all of the force's Taser reports.

Tasers were introduced into the RCMP in 2001 and police use of them has increased sharply since then. More than 2,800 devices have now become available to more than 9,100 RCMP officers across the country. According to Taser-use report forms, Taser use has more than doubled in the last two years, with British Columbia and Manitoba experiencing the heaviest use.

Last December, Paul Kennedy, who heads the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP, released a report criticizing the RCMP for failing to manage the use of Tasers and for allowing usage to grow over the past six years. He recommended that the 50,000-volt Taser should be used in touch-stun or firing mode only when suspects are "combative" or pose a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm."

He observed that Taser use "has expanded to include subduing resistant subjects who do not pose a threat of grievous bodily harm or death and on whom the use of lethal force would not be an option."

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