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Friday, April 11, 2008

RCMP now plan to release more taser data

April 11, 2008
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The RCMP has done an about-face and decided to release more information about Taser use two weeks after a wave of criticism over secrecy about the electronic stun guns.

Const. Pat Flood, an RCMP spokeswoman, said Thursday the force planned to disclose additional details of Taser firings in response to requests under the Access to Information Act.

But there were early indications the Mounties would continue to withhold crucial points, including injuries to people hit with Tasers and the exact dates the incidents occurred.

A release planned for late Thursday was delayed without explanation.

Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh said he hoped the Mounties were taking extra time so they could prepare to make public even more details. But he expressed concern that would not happen. "They should have actually been releasing this information the whole time. They're now releasing more - that is very good. They are still not releasing enough."

The RCMP said Thursday the latest batch of data would contain details of injuries to officers, but not the burns, cuts and bruises suffered by people zapped with Tasers.

"We want to know how many people are being injured per year in the use of the Tasers. Tasers are a dangerous, serious weapon," Dosanjh said. "Canadians have a right to be able to judge for themselves whether or not the continuing use of Tasers is appropriate."

The RCMP, stung by criticism from MPs and human rights advocates, decided earlier this month to rethink stripping Taser reports of key information. Commissioner William Elliott ordered "a further review" of recently released copies of forms detailing use of the electronic weapons "to determine if additional information" should be disclosed.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day had sought and received assurances the RCMP would review the matter. The Mounties denied their hand was forced by the minister, saying they had already decided to take a second look at the Taser forms.

The controversy unfolded after a joint investigation by The Canadian Press and CBC found the Mounties had begun censoring basic elements that must be recorded each time officers draw their electronic weapons. The force no longer revealed whether Tasered people were armed or not, the precise dates of firings, and whether the device caused any injuries.

As a result, Canadians know much less about who is being hit with the contentious 50,000-volt guns and under what circumstances.

Advocates of more openness said the names and addresses of Tasered people are already struck from the forms, making further deletions unnecessary.

Another RCMP spokesman, Insp. Troy Lightfoot, has said internal analysis of Taser reports concluded the painful weapons were being used correctly.

Newspaper editorials and opposition critics and newspaper editorials said that amounts to a "just-trust-us" approach.

Last November a Canadian Press analysis of 563 cases between 2002 and 2005 found three in four suspects Tasered by the RCMP were unarmed. Several of those reports suggested a pattern of stun-gun use as a convenient means of keeping drunk or rowdy people in line, rather than to defuse major clashes. Twenty people in Canada have died soon after being Tasered.

Manufacturer Taser International stresses that its device has never been directly blamed for a death, although it has been cited as a contributing factor in several cases.

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