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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

MPs grill top Mountie on tasers

April 21, 2009
BILL CURRY, Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Opposition MPs accused RCMP Commissioner William Elliott of watering down the police force's restrictions on tasers, challenging the Commissioner to explain why a reference in the RCMP manual warning against repeated use of the stun gun was removed in the latest version of the policy.

Mr. Elliott said the new policy, which was completed in February and distributed to MPs this week, should be taken as a whole and he stressed that it does make the use of tasers more restrictive.

Liberal, Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs all asked Mr. Elliott to explain why a line in the previous policy informing officers not to use a taser repeatedly has been deleted.

Mr. Elliott said that if someone is in a life-or-death situation, he would not want a rule that would prevent an officer from defending him or herself. He also said new policies in place stress the need for officers to assess the risk of using a taser and supervisors are now obliged to take a closer look at each incident where a taser is used.

“It's a more restrictive policy than in the past,” he said. “We do not prescribe in our policies, for example, how many times at minimum or maximum it is permissible or advisable to strike someone with a baton... Yes, officers can use [tasers] repeatedly if it is necessary and reasonable in the circumstances to do so.”

Mr. Elliott made the comments during a one hour appearance before the House of Commons committee on national security and public safety, which is currently studying police use of tasers.

The RCMP's use of stun guns is under heavy scrutiny, particularly in British Columbia, where the Braidwood inquiry is examining the actions of RCMP officers in connection to the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

The widely viewed video of RCMP officers using a taser on Mr. Dziekanski led to concern that the RCMP may have used undue force in the incident.

Mr. Elliott drew considerable criticism himself last month when he addressed the issue of stun guns during a tour of police activities in Afghanistan.

“I think there is a real danger in us making judgments, particularly the judgments about the character of people or organizations, based on our own limited experience,” the Commissioner said last month. “Even in situations where people make mistakes or don't act appropriately, I think there is a requirement to do a sober, sound examination of the facts or the circumstances and I think the expression ‘Walk a mile in my shoes' comes to mind.”

In a report released earlier this month, the RCMP complaints commissioner Paul Kennedy urged Canada's national police force to be more careful about using stun guns, particularly on young people and the mentally ill. The report also called on the RCMP to improve its tracking and analysis of stun gun incidents.

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