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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Brunswick government reverses youth taser policy

June 11th, 2008
Mary Moszynski, Times & Transcript

Fredericton - The provincial government has reversed its policy of allowing tasers to be used on youths in adult jails -- a day after the minister responsible said there was no need to examine the law.

Public Safety Minister John Foran said government is endorsing the recommendation as outlined in a report released by Ombudsman Bernard Richard examining the youth justice system. "We've gone through the report and one of the recommendations is that they will not be used on youth," he said. "We believe this is a really good report, it's got a lot of recommendations."

Four minors have been transferred from a youth detention centre to an adult jail in the past five years. However, a judge can sentence an 18-year-old to either an adult or youth facility.

Regardless of how they arrived at the adult prison, anyone under the age of 19 will not be tasered, said the government. But Foran refused to commit to following the other recommendations outlined in the report, including those centered on segregation and restraints.

"What we're committing to do is taking the ombudsman's report very seriously," he said.

Foran said his department is working on developing a clinical setting for youth at the detention centre who are at risk of harming themselves. However segregation and restraints will still be used, he said. There will also be psychologists and nurses on staff, he added.

"Things are done for various reasons and segregation is not just a matter of punishing somebody, it's a matter of sometimes putting them there to keep them from hurting themselves."

Richard's report is based on the life of Ashley Smith, a Moncton native who spent years in various prisons before killing herself at the age of 19. When she was 18, Smith was transferred from the youth jail in Miramichi to the adult prison in Saint John where she was hit by a taser twice.

Richard said officials should "absolutely stop" using tasers on anyone under the age of 19.

Yesterday Richard said he's pleased with government's change in taser policies. "It's a good start. And, in my view, it's a recognition that it shouldn't have happened in Ashley's case."

Oromocto Conservative MLA Jody Carr said government must now address the other recommendations in the report. "Very clearly we see a government that's making policy on the fly. The fact the minister has changed his position in 24 hours is positive, he's following the recommendations of the ombudsman," he said. "The government needs to set clear timelines on all of these recommendations and take it very seriously."

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