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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alberta Mounties plan to keep their Tasers

July 26, 2009
By Richard Warnica, Edmonton Journal

RCMP in Alberta have no immediate plans to adopt strict new Taser-use guidelines being imposed on police in British Columbia.

A public commission in B. C. this week recommended significant changes to the rules governing police use of the controversial conductive energy weapons.

But a spokesman for the RCMP in this province said any changes here would only come after consultation with the provincial solicitor general.

"We're always open to discussion," said Cpl. Wayne Oakes. The B. C. recommendations relate to that province alone, he said.

Oakes said RCMP Taser use in Alberta is governed by national guidelines set by the RCMP and provincial guidelines set by the solicitor general.

Officers are required to follow "whichever has the most onerous guidelines," he said.

The Alberta NDP has called for an outright ban on Taser use among officers. But leader Brian Mason said Saturday that implementing the B. C. recommendations here would go a long way toward cutting down on what Mason calls "inappropriate" Taser use, namely the deployment of Tasers when there is no obvious threat to public safety or the safety of an officer.

"The other problem is there are multiple deployments of Tasers, which is very dangerous," Mason said. "If the RCMP don't adopt these recommendations, then I think that (Solicitor General) Fred Lindsay should insist that they follow them in Alberta."

Tom Engel, who chairs the Criminal Trial Lawyers policing committee, said police rules regarding Taser use in Alberta are generally unclear about when deployment is legal. An officer legally can only cause serious pain, injury or death to a suspect if that suspect's actions could result in harm to others, he said. "We all know that the Taser will at least cause serious pain."

Engel argues that many officers believe a Taser can be deployed when a suspect is resisting physical control, an act that could be as slight as pulling away. Explicitly stating that the Taser only be used when there is a threat to public safety or the safety of an officer would likely lead to a reduction in Taser deployments in Alberta, Engel said.

For now it is unclear what impact the B. C. report will have on the national RCMP standards.

British Columbia's solicitor general ordered all municipal police forces to adopt the new, stricter guidelines and he has said he expects the RCMP to do the same. But the organization has yet to commit to doing so.

RCMP in B. C. said Friday they welcomed the report and would be reviewing and analyzing its recommendations.

In a directive issued from RCMP's B. C. headquarters, officers were advised that "current RCMP standards continue to apply."

Members were asked to "note the direction of the B. C. Solicitor General and to treat this direction as being complementary to existing policy."

B. C. launched an inquiry into police Taser use in February 2008 in the aftermath of the death of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died minutes after being Tasered in the Vancouver airport in October 2007.

The inquiry's commissioner, Thomas Braidwood, released his first of two reports Thursday. Among his 19 recommendations were: - That Tasers only be deployed to enforce federal criminal offences. - That officers be prohibited from deploying Tasers unless the subject is causing bodily harm or the officer is satisfied the subject's behaviour will imminently cause bodily harm. - That Taser use on the emotionally disturbed be used as a last resort. - That provincial standards be adopted for rigorous and regular train-ing of officers, testing of devices and reporting on use.

In the last 12 months, investigations have been launched into two deaths involving Tasers in Alberta.

In May, Grant William Prentice, 40, was Tasered by police in Brooks and later died in hospital.

The incident is still under investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the provincial body that investigates use of force by police.

ASIRT also continues to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of Trevor Grimolfson, 38, after he was Tasered by Edmonton Police while allegedly running amok on Stony Plain Road last October.

RCMP are also facing a $2.5-million lawsuit filed by an Exshaw man claiming physical and mental injury after he was allegedly Tasered five times by RCMP in Banff in July 2007.

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