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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Prison service ices Taser pilot project

November 9, 2008
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — A plan to introduce Taser stun guns into Canada's prisons has been indefinitely shelved amid intense public scrutiny of the powerful weapons.

"We're constantly evaluating the equipment we use," said Guy Campeau, a spokesman for the Correctional Service of Canada.

"The use of that technology is still being considered but is under review."

Guards who serve as emergency responders were trained in Taser use at two maximum-security prisons - Millhaven near Kingston, Ont., and Kent Institution about 140 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Inmate advocates such as the John Howard Society warned at the time against potential abuse in the high-stress prison system.

But Campeau said eight Tasers purchased by Corrections Canada as part of last year's foray are now off-limits until the department assesses reviews of stun-gun use by the B.C. government and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

In a major report to the government last June, complaints commission chairman Paul Kennedy urged the Mounties to limit Tasers to clashes where suspects are combative or risk serious harm to themselves, the police or the public.

The RCMP agreed that the force must "properly instruct" its members "and account for our use of the weapon."

Campeau said the correctional service had initially planned to begin the pilot project in the fall of last year. But on Nov. 20, British Columbia and the Mounties launched reviews of their Taser policies.

That was one week after devastating amateur video footage of Robert Dziekanski's death was released to the media and beamed around the world.

The newly arrived Polish immigrant tossed furniture in agitation following hours spent in limbo at the Vancouver airport. He died on Oct. 14, 2007, after being Tasered and pinned to the floor by four Mounties who waited less than 30 seconds before jolting him.

The footage of his last moments, howling in agony, unleashed international outrage over what appeared to be swift use of a painful weapon with little effort to talk him down.

It's no coincidence the Corrections pilot project fell off the list of priorities in the onslaught of media coverage that followed, says inmate advocate and researcher Craig Jones.

"The Taser has come under exceptionally critical scrutiny - particularly since the death of Robert Dziekanski," said the executive director of the John Howard Society. "And they would be reluctant to introduce something that was drawing that kind of negative attention."

There's also the delicate matter of the dynamics between prison staff and inmates, he said.

"It's in the interest of both to maintain an equilibrium on the calm end of the spectrum. When you introduce a new device like the Taser, you automatically amp up the anxiety on one side and, in so doing, you amp up the anxiety on the other side."

Jason Godin, regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said staff learned through a memo that the stun guns were on hold.

"They didn't really give any rationale. They just basically put the project on ice."

Godin has worked as a maximum-security guard at Ontario's Kingston Penitentiary and nearby Millhaven.

"I guess it's still up in the air," he said. " We believe the organization obviously got a little bit of cold feet on this one because of the controversy in the public."

Officers want to explore the possibility of adding Tasers to their arsenal of batons, tear gas and pepper spray to rein in the most unruly and often dangerous prisoners, Godin said.

"We have an extremely difficult job to do. Our job calls for as many options as we can have available to us to control situations safely, so we're always looking for different means to try to do those things."


Anonymous said...

This decision puts offiers at risk, Canada should be ashamed

Anonymous said...

If the officers are really at risk in a confrontation, then they have my blessing (as if they need it) to use batons, and if justifiable - even lethal gun fire. Seriously - the risk should rightly be on the prisoners if they attack staff.

But in a prison setting: TASERS ARE TORTURE

That's the issue. Tasers will inevitably be misused, overused, and abused. It happens on the street and airports, and it'll happen much more in a prison setting.