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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tasers will not be used in Saskatchewan jails

July 24, 2008
James Wood, Saskatchewan News Network

REGINA -- The provincial government appears to have all but shut the door on the use of Tasers in Saskatchewan jails for some time to come.

The province was in the process of introducing electronic conducted devices (ECDs) such as Tasers for use by emergency response teams at the province's correctional centres last fall, but their use was put on hold after Polish citizen Robert Dziekanski died at the Vancouver International Airport in October after being shot with a Taser by RCMP.

Saskatchewan Party Corrections, Public Safety and Policing Minister Darryl Hickie, who said in the spring that the issue was being reviewed, said Wednesday there are no plans for the introduction of Tasers.

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Font:****"At the present time, no, they will not be instituted in our correctional facilities," he said outside a meeting of cabinet at the legislature building.

"If after lengthy consultations with other jurisdictions and if the deputy minister decides it's something they want to implement in correctional facilities as a level of force option, it could be reopened and reconsidered," he added.

A spokesperson for the Corrections Ministry later said no final decision on the potential use of Tasers has been made but the government has no formal review process in place and there is no timetable for a decision.

The provincial ombudsman makes a report next week on Tasers and the provincial corrections system.

The government had purchased two Tasers for use by emergency response teams at each of the province's three correctional centres. Training had begun last fall in Saskatoon and Regina and was planned for Prince Albert.

The Saskatchewan Police Commission is currently examining the use of Tasers by the province's police forces.

On Tuesday, a 17-year-old male who was a suspect in a theft died in Winnipeg after being struck by a Taser used by police.

Hickie, a former police officer and federal prison guard, has consistently expressed skepticism about the use of Tasers in jails.

He believes Tasers are a poor fit in the controlled environment of correctional facilities and does not expect concerns from jail staff if they are not introduced.

Provincial ombudsman Kevin Fenwick said his report is aimed at ensuring the government has the right information on hand and takes the "corrections environment into account" when it looks at the Taser issue.

Fenwick said the government "needs to do more work to make a good decision" compared to what was done before Corrections gave Tasers the go-ahead last year.

"The studies we have been able to look at are primarily studies of their usage in police settings and are primarily involving the effects of Tasers on relatively healthy subject populations. Other studies tell us that there are much higher instances of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, things like that in correctional centres, which can be problem areas with respect to controlled energy devices. We believe there needs to be considerable additional work done before the decision is made about correctional centres because those are vulnerable populations," he said.

Jim Warner, executive director of the John Howard Society in Saskatchewan, said the use of stun guns in jails would be a concern for his organization.

"There is mixed information about the safety of the device and the proper use of it and when it should be used," he said.

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