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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Members of Parliament set to recommend RCMP taser use be reined in

June 8, 2008
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — MPs studying Taser use are expected to urge the RCMP to restrict the powerful weapons to high-risk confrontations - especially when suspects are highly agitated.

The all-party Commons public safety committee will stop short, however, of recommending a moratorium on the 50,000-volt weapons, says a source close to a report expected as early as this week.

"We're all worried that if you take away the Taser completely and somebody dies with a gun, then everyone will say: 'That alternative was available and you shouldn't have had a moratorium,"' said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Instead, the committee plans to unanimously recommend the Mounties immediately adopt the top two recommendations made in an interim report last year by the independent watchdog over the national police force.

Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, said in December that Tasers should be deemed impact weapons used only when suspects are "combative" or pose a risk of "death or grievous bodily harm."

Kennedy cited "usage creep" as a major concern warranting swift action, yet the RCMP has resisted such restrictions. He is also expected to release his final report as early as this week - expanding on the initial findings through more detailed statistical analysis of RCMP Taser firings since 2001.

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," Kennedy said in the interim report to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.

Restrictions should also apply in cases of so-called "excited delirium" in which suspects are in a heart-pounding state of agitation, Kennedy said.

Excited delirium has been repeatedly cited to explain the sudden deaths of several people soon after being zapped.

Kennedy's interim report did not advocate a moratorium on the widely used stun guns. But it called for revamped Taser training, stricter reporting requirements and more research on the controversial devices.

MPs on the public safety committee are expected to urge the Mounties to act on his top recommendations within six months. Otherwise, a temporary moratorium will be reconsidered, said the source.

Kennedy's initial report followed an international furor over the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski. The 40-year-old man died Oct. 14 after he was repeatedly Tasered and pinned to the floor by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport.

Dziekanski was recorded as the 18th of an estimated 20 people to die in Canada after being hit by a Taser. Amnesty International says at least 280 people have died since July 2001 in the United States.

Taser International, makers of the device, stresses that the weapons have never been directly blamed for a death, though they have been cited as contributing factors.

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