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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ottawa, provinces moving on national Taser standards

January 5, 2009
By Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service

OTTAWA — The federal government and provincial governments are planning to create national standards to determine when police can zap suspects with Tasers, in an attempt to reduce a patchwork of practices among police forces and restore public confidence in the controversial weapons.

Deputy public safety ministers will begin work this month on the national blueprint, federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan told Canwest News Service.

"There's no doubt there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the use of Tasers," Van Loan said. "I think there would be greater public confidence if there was a single consistent national standard or guidelines."

Van Loan said he will leave it to the deputy solicitors general and law enforcement experts to devise the standards, but that he personally would support guidelines similar to those adopted by the RCMP, which dictate that Tasers can only be used when there is a threat of harm to police or the public.

He did not say whether the new standards, which he said he hopes each province will enforce as part of their jurisdiction over policing, will stipulate which officers should be authorized to use the stun guns.

The number of municipal and provincial officers who are armed with and trained to use Tasers varies from force to force, with some banning them among frontline officers and restricting usage to supervisors or tactical team members.

Van Loan said it makes sense to craft national standards in part because RCMP are contracted out to local forces across the country, so the rules they follow vary depending on where they work.

"It's a little bit odd to have different rules for something like that that's fairly technical," he said.

Van Loan said the time has come for national standards because police are now experienced enough in the use of Tasers to share what they've learned.

"If we can share the best practices and come up with a consistent approach, I'm sure it will be one that we would expect would be better able to stand the test of time," he said.

While the Canada Safety Council has called on the federal government to regulate Taser use through its Criminal Code power, Van Loan said he expects that making improper use illegal would be too harsh.

"That might be too severe of a way of enforcing your standards or guidelines, that everything on one side of the line is perfectly OK, and once a police officer makes a mistake or crosses the line a little bit they suddenly become a criminal," he said.

"I'd be interested in people's thoughts on that, but off the top of my head it seems like that would be too much of a challenge to do."

Emile Therien, past president of the Canada Safety Council, said national standards are long overdue.

There should be operational rules, training rules, and even standards regulating the safety of the devices themselves, he said.

"It should be a very high standard because there is a very high credibility issue here," he said.

"Unless you have standards for use, and physical standards for product reliability and integrity, you have a problem," said Therien.

"They don't even have maintenance schedules for these things — how often you use it before you throw it out. There's not one other product that a police department uses that doesn't comply to a national standard, like a bulletproof vest or the helmets they use."

The move to create national standards follows an agreement among federal, provincial, and territorial solicitors general at their annual meeting in October.

The Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police issued guidelines last February on Taser use, which called for all police officers nationwide to be authorized to use the weapon.

The joint position also asserted that Tasers are intended for use "in situations where there is an imminent need for control and other options have been precluded because they were ineffective or would be inappropriate given the totality of circumstances in the situation."

The two groups also said individual police agencies have the responsibility to implement polices and procedures regarding the use of force.

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