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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Alleged Tasering subject of lawsuit

February 3, 2009
By BRYAN MEADOWS, Chronicle Journal

Armed with a lawsuit against the Ontario Provincial Police alleging cruel and unusual punishment, a Lac Seul First Nation father will speak to media in Kenora Tuesday about an incident last summer in Sioux Lookout where his 14-year-old daughter was allegedly Tasered while in police custody.

Barristers Keshen and Major said Monday in a press release that the father is going public with the story in response to an internal OPP investigation which concluded that the police action was justified. His daughter “Jane Doe” is also suing the OPP for negligence and assault and battery.

“We think the police behaviour was cruel and unnecessary,” Jane Doe's father said in a prepared statement. “They don‘t need to use these weapons on kids.”

Jane Doe, who has cognitive impairments, will be present at the press conference but will not be available for photos or interviews.

Lawyer Jeff Roberts said her presence is intended to refute a police characterization of her as being large and “surprisingly strong.” “We find the (internal) report and its conclusions to be bizarre and insulting,” Roberts said, adding that “since the police have so far been unaccountable and the legislature is not acting, we are taking this issue to the courts and the media.”

A statement of claim against the OPP notes that the unnecessary Tasering of a 14-year-old amounts to a violation of her Section 12 Charter Right which protects everybody against cruel and unusual punishment. Such acts also contravene the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child, the lawyers say.

Tasers were initially issued to certain members of the OPP for emergency measure use in tactical and hostage-taking situations. Since then, Taser use has become increasingly common and is described as “usage creep” by the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this would never have occurred had the victim been a 14-year-old from Rosedale or West Vancouver,” Roberts said. “Unfortunately, in remote places where there is a lack of policy and media oversight, it is too easy for these sorts of incidents to occur.”

The incident in question allegedly occurred in July of 2008 when the victim was in custody for a minor offense related to alcohol that had occurred the previous evening. She was sporadically peeling paint from the walls of the jail cell the next day when two OPP officers entered the cell, forced her to the floor and Tasered her.
None of the allegations outlined in the statement of claim have been proven in court.

The OPP has so far refused requests by Keshen and Major to release the videotape of the incident to the plaintiff or her lawyer.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth has taken an active interest in the case and is calling on Community Safety and Correctional Minister Rick Bartolucci to implement a moratorium on the use of Tasers on children and youth until independent and sufficient research into the safety of these devices has been completed, except for situations in which lives are in danger and the only alternative is the use of deadly force or a gun.

A news release states that the Advocate‘s Office believes the use of Tasers may be appropriate in situations where there is a risk of death or grievous bodily harm but not as a tool to be used in order to gain compliance.

The agency says it is concerned with the safety of Tasers and the “proportionality” of the response by police to a teenager securely contained in a court holding cell.
The Professional Standards Bureau of the police service in question has deemed the father‘s complaint – that his daughter had been “Tasered without justification” – to be unsubstantiated.

There have been several reports of Tasers being used against people under age 18 in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba.

According to the Final Report of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, there were 90 reports of Taser use by the RCMP on people under the age of 16 between December 2001 and January 2008.

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