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Saturday, July 26, 2008

No tasers for municipal police in Saskatchewan due to safety concerns

July 26, 2008
The Canadian Press

REGINA — Regular municipal police in Saskatchewan will not be issued Tasers because of safety concerns over the conducted energy weapons, the province's police commission announced Friday.

"After questions about the safety of the equipment arose, accompanied by the public inquiry in British Columbia ... the commission believed it was not prudent to move forward with the authorization of conducted energy weapons for general use," said Michael Tochor, chairman of the Saskatchewan Police Commission.

"We will await the findings and recommendations of the various inquiries and studies taking place now before moving further on the issue."

RCMP and municipal police tactical teams already use Tasers and will continue to do so, he said.

At one point the commission initially approved the weapons for regular municipal police, but decided to hold off until a proper policy was developed for their use. While that policy was being put together, members of the commission became increasing concerned about the safety of Tasers because of cases in other provinces, Tochor said.

He did not make a direct reference to Robert Dziekanski, who died at Vancouver International Airport last October after being Tasered by RCMP, or the death of Michael Langan, 17, in Winnipeg earlier this week after he was shot with a stun gun by city police.

"There is a general feeling that it hasn't been established one way or the other that Tasers ... are safe, so we would like more medical and scientific information on that," Tochor said.

"There is also the question of when is it appropriate to use a Taser? Do you use it because a 16-year-old girl in Manitoba isn't doing what the police are telling her to do? Or do you use it when someone is swinging a sword at you?

"To date we haven't been satisfied that there has been a policy set out that will allow the appropriate use of Tasers, yet prevent abuses of Tasers."

A 17-year-old girl said this week she was zapped by a stun gun three times while confined to an RCMP holding cell last year in Selkirk, Man. Her family is proceeding with a public complaint against the officers involved.

Twenty-two people in Canada have died after being hit by a Taser, which can shoot 50,000 volts into a person with such force and heat that it can blister skin.

Arizona-based Taser International has said the weapons have never been directly blamed for a death, although they have been cited as contributing factors.

A British Columbia inquiry into Taser use generally and as it pertained to Dziekanski is to resume Oct. 20. As well, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has commissioned research on Tasers to provide a national perspective on the use and safety of the weapons.

Andy Buxton, spokesman for Amnesty International, called the Saskatchewan Police Commission decision a positive step forward. "It's a small victory in the sense that it doesn't go as far as we would like to see a complete moratorium on the use of Tasers until all the facts are on the table," he said. "Having said that, a small victory is better than no victory whatsoever. The less proliferation of these Tasers, the better," Buxton said from Toronto.

Cpl. Don Perrett with the RCMP's national use of force unit said the Saskatchewan decision will have no effect on the Mounties. "It does not affect the RCMP because we fall under the RCMP Act. We do have policies and procedures in place with respect to the use of any (Tasers). This will not affect our operations," he said from Ottawa.

Bernie Eiswirth, director of the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers, said in some cases municipal forces in the province had already begun to slowly issue Tasers to regular officers and train them in their use. The retired Regina police officer said he hopes the police commission's decision won't result in too long of a delay.

"We'd like to get them back. We can't be too critical but we do want them not to drag their feet on this too long," Eiswirth said.

"There always are safety concerns with any kind of tool that police use. We think at the end of the day, like in any other jurisdiction, the decision will be made that everyone will be back using the Tasers, but that there will be really clear guidelines for their use."

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