February 4, 2009
Globe and Mail
It may be that the Ontario Provincial Police were acting according to policy when they tasered an unarmed, 14-year-old girl in a holding cell in Sioux Lookout last summer. But what kind of policy allows for such massive use of force on youthful prisoners, or for that matter, on teens as young as 13 at any time? The answer is, most of Canada's.
The RCMP, for instance, have used their tasers on those 16 and under 90 times over the past seven years. In New Brunswick, Children and Youth Advocate Bernard Richard has spoken against the tasering of young people in adult prison facilities. He also documented instances of 14-year-olds with severe mental illness being tasered. In Winnipeg last July, a 17-year-old died after being tasered by police.
Tasers do have beneficial uses. There are some types of standoffs with police, usually involving a mentally ill person threatening to do harm to himself, in which the use of a taser may save a life. But police guidelines across the country allow for far broader use. There does not need to be a risk of severe harm to anyone. (In 32 per cent of RCMP uses, the subject had no weapon.) Depending on the police force, a person who is "resistant," "actively resistant" or "assaultive" may be tasered. This is a weapon of convenience, not one of last resort.
Not all the facts are in on the tasering of the 14-year-old in Sioux Lookout, the subject of a lawsuit by her father. Irwin Elman, Ontario's Advocate for Children and Youth, said yesterday he viewed the police videotape and the girl was merely peeling paint off her cell wall. "There is nothing to suggest she posed any danger to herself or others at the time police chose to enter the cell." He called for a moratorium in the province on the use of tasers on people under 18 until independent research on the safety of the weapons has been done, unless lives are in danger and the only alternative is deadly force.
It makes sense, for Ontario and the rest of Canada. Twenty-two people who have been tasered in the past five years died, and voices are being raised in the Canadian medical community about the risks of the taser. No, the risks are not scientifically proven, but the onus should be on the police to demonstrate safety, especially when dealing with vulnerable groups such as young teenagers.
Even if the taser could be proved not to contribute to deaths, its use on young people would be questionable in most circumstances. This is a heavy weapon that inflicts enormous pain. Surely there are less powerful methods police can use on 14-year-olds in jail cells.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
February 4, 2009