August 16, 2008
MATTHEW TREVISAN, Globe and Mail
Rick Anthony remembers a time in policing when there weren't many options available to officers faced with a life or death situation. "Your gun was your distance weapon and your baton was your close-up weapon," said Mr. Anthony, a detective with the Victoria police. "Your mouth was both."
But now, many forces across the country use a variety of "less-lethal" weapons - that is, a weapon less lethal than a gun but still able to inflict fatal damage - in their arsenal.
One of those weapons, the taser, has generated controversy in high-profile instances such as the death of Robert Dziekanski, who died last fall after being tasered by RCMP at Vancouver International Airport. But another weapon, which has been in some police arsenals for more than a decade, has also had its fair share of publicity. And police have recently said that it is more reliable than the taser and can be used at a much greater distance.
Developed originally as a way for police to control crowds during unrest in Northern Ireland, the ARWEN, the acronym for Anti-riot Weapon ENfield, fires plastic bullets and is used by law enforcements agencies across the country, said Brian Kirkey, president of Police Ordnance, the company based in Markham, Ont., that manufactures and distributes the gun worldwide.
"It would be fair to say most medium to large agencies in Canada have an ARWEN system in their equipment inventory for both their tactical team and their public order unit," he said.
The current model, the ARWEN 37, fires plastic bullets at a rate of 74 metres a second and can be used as far as 100 metres away. Getting hit by one of the bullets feels the same as getting beamed by pitch hurled by a major league pitcher, Mr. Kirkey said.
Tactical officers who fire the guns aim for a suspect's stomach, or extremities such as the upper thigh and lower arm, as a way to disarm suspects or get them to comply with police. "It'll break bones if it hits," Mr. Kirkey said. "You don't want to hit them in the head. You don't want to hit them in the neck. That's where you have a potential fatality."
In August of 1984, Sean Downes died after he was hit in the chest by a plastic bullet fired by a Northern Ireland police officer, an incident that garnered attention because of a photo of Mr. Downes's body showing a huge bruise on his chest.
In Canada, the gun first garnered attention in Vancouver in 1994 when, during a Stanley Cup riot after the Vancouver Canucks lost in Game 7 to the New York Rangers, a man was shot in the head by one of the plastic bullets.
In 2001, the man's civil suit against the Vancouver police force and the city of Vancouver was dismissed, and a B.C. Supreme Court judge found that the officer who shot the man, Ryan Berntt, acted reasonably, according to news reports at the time.
Despite the potential for serious harm, Inspector Clark of the Calgary police tactical team, said the ARWEN is instrumental in providing an opportunity for police to disarm a suspect without inflicting a fatal wound.
The Calgary police department has been using the gun since 2007 and has discharged it five times.
Police forces across the country that employ the ARWEN include Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Halton and Victoria. ***
The ARWEN 37T Tactical
Claimed to be the first less lethal tactical weapon to combine lightness, high accuracy and the ability to fire up to five shots without reloading.
Light weight with minimal rotational torque. Semi- automatic function - can fire five rounds in four seconds
37 mm foam, wood or tear- gas ammunition
Telescoping butt stock
The ARWEN is 64 - 69 cm long
Rifling:Five lands / five grooves
Rate of twist: One in 540mm right hand twist
Weight unloaded: 2.98 kg
Weight loaded with five rounds:3.61 kg
NINIAN CARTER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Saturday, August 16, 2008
August 16, 2008