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Saturday, February 07, 2009


February 7, 2008
Sault Star

Ontario's advocate for children is calling for a moratorium on using stun guns on minors except in extreme circumstances.

It is a call, of course, that I fully support, not only for minors but all, having detailed my concern about Taser use in a column on Oct. 8.

And I would hope authorities will take the call by Irwin Elman, the head of Ontario's Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children, seriously because its use is creeping downward on youths in custody and in circumstances in which it definitely doesn't seem to be warranted.

In November 2007 a 16-year-old girl was Tasered after being taken to an RCMP detachment in Selkirk, Man., for being intoxicated. Admitting to being drunk and obnoxious and even jumping on the back of an officer in the holding cell, the girl, who weighed 130 pounds, said four male officers -- one for each limb -- held her on the ground and Tasered her.

The girl, who was never formally charged, showed CTV the burns to her body.

And last year, in a case that just became public through a lawsuit and got the attention of Elman, a 14-year-old girl from a remote First Nation was zapped by Ontario Provincial Police while in a holding facility in Sioux Lookout. In a statement of claim, it is alleged that two OPP officers entered the cell without warning and applied the Taser to her upper thigh for three to five seconds.

The girl, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, was arrested for underage drinking, her lawyer said, and was allegedly zapped because she wouldn't stop picking at the paint on the wall of her cell.

None of the allegations has been proved in court but an OPP spokesman confirmed to The Canadian Press that there had been an incident that involved using "a conductive energy device" and Elman said he had viewed the tape. He called the incident an example of "usage creep" with the device.

Last fall a plan to introduce Taser stun guns into Canada's prisons was indefinitely shelved amid intense public scrutiny of the powerful weapons.

"We're constantly evaluating the equipment we use," said Guy Campeau of the Correctional Service of Canada. "The use of that technology is still being considered but is under review."

What he really should have been saying as well was that also being evaluated were the people using the equipment and how they were using it.

Since there have been so many deaths following the use of Tasers, undoubtedly there is worry about the power of the equipment.

But I think there has to be just as much worry about the people using it, that they will abuse it, using it simply because they find it easier than having to apply physical force in close contact.

As I said in my Oct. 8 column, considering we rely on police to keep us safe, it is incumbent on us to provide and allow them the use of the best equipment available.

But on the other hand, even while seeing the merits of the Taser as a police tool, I find myself unable to escape the nagging thought that something has been going wrong, very wrong.

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