April 21, 2009
By Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service
The RCMP was questioned Tuesday on its new policy that no longer prohibits Mounties from firing multiple Taser shocks at suspects, instead leaving it up to officers to make their own judgment calls.
Commissioner William Elliott was grilled by the House of Commons public safety committee, where several members accused the RCMP of watering down rules governing use of the controversial weapons.
Elliott defended the new directive, saying the force does not want to straitjacket officers into making bad decisions that do not reflect the severity of the circumstances.
"You have to teach officers to make good decisions," said Elliott. They must be free of "overly instructive" rules and be trained to use the weapons only when it is "reasonable and necessary in the circumstances," he said.
The former policy warned against firing Tasers repeatedly, nor for more than 15-20 seconds at a time, "unless situational factors dictate otherwise."
The new policy, adopted in February, says only that: "Multiple deployment or continuous cycling of a CEW (conducted energy weapon) may be hazardous to a subject."
While the new rule may appear more relaxed at first glance, it must be interpreted as part of an overall revamped policy on Taser use that is more restrictive than in the past, said Elliott.
Officers are now cautioned to only use the stun guns in situations that pose a safety risk, rather than to simply restrain a suspect.
Furthermore, officers must be recertified on Taser use annually, instead of every three years.
Elliott said it makes sense that Mounties should have the same discretion in deploying Tasers as they do in using their batons.
"There's no simple or universal prescription of once, twice, three times, or five times," he said.
The revelation of a rule change comes at a time when a public inquiry in British Columbia is probing the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died in 2007 when he was repeatedly Tasered at the Vancouver airport — including four shots after he fell to the floor.
Opposition members on the committee denounced the multiple-shot policy as too vague and said that officers must be given clearer direction on repeated usage of Tasers.
Elliott suggested that the force, which is more aware than ever of the risks associated with Taser use, is open to making changes to its new policy on multiple use.
"I'm not suggesting that the current language of our policy is perfect and I'm not suggesting we aren't prepared to look at further changes," he said, citing a policy in the United Kingdom that details the risks associated with repeated shocks.
Elliott, who told the public safety committee two months ago that the RCMP had reined in its Taser policy, was called back Tuesday to explain why the force had abandoned its restrictions on multiple firings.
Liberal MP Mark Holland said that, according to RCMP reports, 16 suspects were Tasered five or more times successively.
"I don't see why we can't have policies that say if someone is down on the ground writhing in pain, they shouldn't be hit again with a Taser," he told reporters.
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said that new RCMP position on multiple shocks makes sense, when the policy on Tasers is viewed as a whole.
"They have also made the policy much more restrictive with a number of other changes, for example, Tasers are only to be used in a situation where there is a threat and that's something that wasn't there before," he said in the foyer of the House of Commons.
Also, the Mounties now have a heightened awareness of the perils of Taser use, he said.
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
April 21, 2009