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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Opposition urges ban on RCMP using tasers - say Mounties missed MPs deadline to reclassify weapons

December 17, 2008
Jim Bronskill and Sue Bailey, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA–Opposition parties want the RCMP to stop using Taser stun guns after the force refused to reclassify the weapons to restrict use.

The Liberals and NDP say the Mounties missed a parliamentary committee's deadline Monday to categorize the 50,000-volt electronic devices as impact weapons.

Reclassifying Tasers would limit use to situations where a person assaults police or the public, or poses a serious threat of harm or death.

An all-party committee of MPs called for the restriction last June until Taser safety claims are supported by impartial studies.

The public safety committee also said the RCMP should have strict guidelines to limit multiple firings.

The RCMP sent several of its Tasers for testing recently after a study commissioned by the CBC found four out of 41 guns discharged more electrical current than Taser International, the U.S.-based manufacturer, says is possible.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland says the Mounties have done little in response to concerns. "That's just not acceptable. It's not like they've had two weeks; they've had six months."

An RCMP spokesperson said no progress report was sent to the committee because Parliament isn't sitting. The RCMP says reclassifying the Taser as suggested could threaten police and public safety.

An August briefing for RCMP Commissioner William Elliott maintains the Taser "is an effective tool with very limited injury rates." The force says it has restricted Taser use and now requires officers be retrained each year.

More than 20 people in Canada have died after being hit by a Taser.

NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair said rules are unclear. The problem, he says, is people perceive "the Taser as being electric pepper spray ... something that could control someone who was in difficulty. Unfortunately now, with over 20 deaths, it's incredibly obvious ... they're too dangerous to be used without proper rules. And we don't have proper rules."

Holland says that doesn't go far enough. "For an issue that has demanded the national attention as much as this issue has, because of the fact that there have been serious injuries and deaths, we expected a lot more."

Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died in October 2007 after RCMP officers repeatedly zapped him and pinned down at Vancouver International Airport. Amateur video of his wrenching final moments was beamed around the world as Tasers became water-cooler talk for outraged viewers.

Others defended the stun guns that remain an overwhelmingly popular tool with police.

Mounties across Canada have used their stun guns more than 5,000 times in the last seven years.

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