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Thursday, February 12, 2009


February 12, 2009
Tonda MacCharles, Toronto Star

OTTAWA – The RCMP has shifted its Taser policy, now training its officers that use of the stun gun poses a risk of death "particularly for acutely agitated individuals."

In the past, the RCMP had suggested using the weapon was appropriate in cases where "resistant" individuals could be subdued in order for them to be given medical attention.

"We no longer allow that," RCMP Commissioner William Elliott told a parliamentary committee this morning.

Elliott stressed the force believes the conducted energy weapons, which fire a 50,000-volt discharge, are still a "useful weapon."

But the force has changed its training and policy directives to officers in the field to flag the "risks" and to stress it should only be used when "necessary" to ensure "officer or public safety."

The new policy also says use of the Taser must be "reasonable" in circumstances where otherwise a firearm would be used.

Elliott said it should now only be used where there is "lethal overwatch" or where another police officer is standing by ready to shoot his gun at an individual if the Taser fails to subdue the suspect.

The new instructions also warn of the "hazards of multiple deployment or continuous cycling" of the weapon.

Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, whose death is being examined by an inquiry in B.C., was stunned five times by a Taser gun wielded by RCMP officers.

Elliott's explanations did not satisfy Opposition MPs who suggested the RCMP still hasn't tightened its controls enough in response to a report by the public safety committee last year.

NDP MP Jack Harris said "threats to public safety" is a vague phrase open to interpretation.

"You want full and unbridled use" of the Taser weapon, suggested Liberal Rob Oliphant.

But Elliot objected strongly, saying the RCMP has also:

- made it mandatory for officers to report each use of force, including the drawing of a Taser even if not discharged;

- required the report to written on the shift the Taser is used;

- required each use of force to be reviewed in Ottawa; and

- required that data is sent to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to produce quarterly and annual reports.

"I believe the facts are we have made significant changes in response to the committee's report and to respond to the recommendations," Elliott said. "We have taken steps to restrict its use."

Elliott said that since his last appearance before the committee he has "been Tasered," and went on to explain that it may be appropriate to discharge the weapon more than once, depending on where the probes land on a suspect, in order to control a suspect's movements.

Dave Mackenzie, Conservative parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety, said he was "very satisfied" with Elliott's and the RCMP's response to the committee's prior recommendations.

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