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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ban stun gun use on young people, Ontario's child advocate urges police

A list of recent stun gun uses on young people in Canada (at the end of the following report) is not complete without the following:

In Alberta: Edmonton cop faces hearing

In British Columbia: Tasered neck an accident.

In Manitoba: Mounties taser girl in cell.

In British Columbia: RCMP accused of misusing Taser on Victoria teen

In New Brunswick: Human rights group condemns RCMP use of Taser on teen

In Alberta: Controversial Edmonton cop back in trouble

And I'm sure there are others.

February 3, 2009
11:11 AM
CBC News

Ontario's child advocate has recommended the provincial police force ban the use of stun guns on minors unless lethal force is necessary.

The call comes after a teenager was shocked in the Sioux Lookout OPP detachment cell last summer. The 15-year-old female, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, was picked up by Ontario Provincial Police for underage drinking following an altercation at a July 2008 party.

The teen, who was 14 at the time and has fetal alcohol syndrome, was waiting in the jail cell for a court hearing.

Her father, who also cannot be identified, said his daughter was picking paint off the cell walls out of boredom. Police warned her to stop and when she didn't, her father said officers entered her cell, held her down by both arms and shot her with a stun gun.

"They put her down, they took out something black and the next thing you know, there was a scream. Why would they do that? She wasn't doing anything wrong, just scratching on the wall," he said.

According to police documents, officers said they were forced to subdue her with the stun gun after she attacked them.

She was later convicted of assaulting a police officer during the incident.

Inappropriate response: child advocate

Her father says he didn't see any evidence of violence on her part when he watched the police videotape of the incident and launched a complaint against the OPP. He and his daughter are also suing the police force for $500,000.

The OPP will not comment on the case because of the lawsuit, however, an internal investigation by the OPP's professional standards bureau found the complaint was unsubstantiated due to insufficient evidence.

Lawyers for the force are expected to file a statement of defence during the next few days, which could offer more information into the case.

Ontario Child Advocate Irwin Elman said the police response was not appropriate.

"When I saw the tape, we had a young person who was peeling paint off the wall of a police holding cell with her fingernail and she was quiet and on a cot," he said. "And our estimation, the use of a Taser was not proportional to the need to protect, I guess, the paint on the wall."

Elman said the police force should suspend its use of stun guns on youth until more information is known about their effects. "We're asking for a moratorium on the use of Tasers on children and youth, certainly in our province, until there's established, full research about their use on children and youth," he said.

According to a recent RCMP audit, as many as 90 people under the age of 16 across the country were shocked by stun guns between 2001-2008, said Elman.

"It's hard to tell … how much that happens in Ontario's police holding cells or elsewhere because there's no real transparent oversight on the use of Tasers."

OPP Insp. Dave Ross say the force hasn't seen Elman's recommendations but will review and consider them. "We're always reviewing our policies and procedures with any practices we do in the OPP to ensure we're delivering the best services we can to the communities, but still fulfilling our mandate of public safety," he said.

Debate over stun guns

Jeff Roberts, a lawyer for the father and daughter, said stun guns are no longer weapons of last resort, but are being used by police as a method of pain compliance. Roberts calls that cruel and unusual treatment that is forbidden under international law. "It's unnecessary and extremely cruel. Would you like me to stick your kid's finger in a light socket?" he said.

The use of stun guns on young people has been under debate across the country following a number of incidents:

New Brunswick banned the use of the weapons on youth prisoners last year after an 18-year-old female was stunned twice while jailed in Saint John.

Michael Langan, 17, died last July after Winnipeg police shot him with a stun gun after an altercation with officers.

RCMP in the Northwest Territories are investigating their use of a stun gun on a teenage girl at a youth detention centre in Inuvik in 2007.

A Halifax Youth Court judge criticized three police officers for their arrest of a teenage girl, who was tackled in her own bed and shocked twice with a stun gun in February 2007.

Testimony is also ongoing at an inquiry into the October 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish immigrant who died after being stunned several times at Vancouver International Airport.

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