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Friday, June 13, 2008

P.E.I. RCMP quibble with taser numbers

June 13, 2008

Multiple firings of stun guns by RCMP are not as routine on P.E.I. as a CBC investigation shows, Mounties on the island say, but the use of the weapon is more frequent than previously thought.

A joint investigation by the CBC and the Canadian Press, looking at data from 2002 to 2007, estimated RCMP nationwide used their Tasers more than 3,000 times during the period. On more than 1,300 of those occasions, or 43 per cent of the time, the stun gun was fired multiple times. RCMP policy states officers should avoid firing Tasers, which deliver an incapacitating electrical shock to a subject, more than once at a person.

For the same five-year span, the media investigation found 31 incidents of Taser use by RCMP on P.E.I. In 17 of those cases, or 55 per cent of the time, the stun gun was fired more than once.

The Mounties dispute those numbers. Sgt. Denis Morin told CBC News on Tuesday that multiple firings occurred in only 38 per cent of cases, below the national average. But he added that RCMP data shows Tasers were deployed more often on P.E.I. — 49 times, of which 19 were multiple firings. Both figures are higher than what the CBC-Canadian Press investigation determined.

Morin, who calls the Tasers "conducted energy weapons" or CEWs, said officers will only fire multiple times as a last resort.

"[It] might be caused by the CEW wasn't effective when it reached the target," he said. "It hit clothing or didn't penetrate clothing or the subject moved, or that person was combative.... You'd think it would be enough to take anybody down, but it seems in some cases, members have to use it again."

Mother of victim shocked

The information regarding multiple uses of the Taser came as a shock to Riki Bagnell of Charlottetown. Her son Robert died in British Columbia in 2004 after police used stun guns on him.

"He was unarmed and he was of no threat to them, which they have since admitted, but for whatever reason they decided to Taser him," Bagnell said. "They Tasered him more than once, and he died on the scene."

Since her son's death, Bagnell has been researching stun guns and started a blog dedicated to him called Truth, Not Tasers. She noted that according to Taser International, which makes the stun guns, Tasers cause the subject to lose all muscle control. She doesn't understand why they would need to be used more than once.

Canada's RCMP complaints commissioner will soon release a report on the weapon, and it's expected to call for a much tighter rein on the use of stun guns.

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