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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Amnesty official wants national policy on stun gun use

The Canadian Press

FREDERICTON — The secretary general for Amnesty International Canada says while there have been great strides to improve stun gun use in Canada, there needs to be a strict set of national standards.

Alex Neve said Tuesday the federal government needs to show leadership to ensure new standards for use of the weapons apply to all police forces, and not just the RCMP.

"We've seen some very welcome restrictions placed on RCMP use of the Taser," said Neve, who was attending a conference in Fredericton organized by the Canadian Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. "What we don't have though is consistency and coherence across the country. There are a multitude of different policing jurisdictions in Canada."

Neve said there is a place for the use of stun guns as long as they are used in accordance with the law and proper training.

"We have been calling for very careful guidelines and restrictions to be imposed on how Tasers get used, by whom, under what circumstance, how often, on what parts of the body, and many other aspects," he said in an interview.

In May, the Mounties announced they would fire stun guns at people only when they are hurting someone or clearly about to harm them.

"We would have liked there to have been an adjective there for serious bodily harm or grievous bodily harm," Neve said.

The use of the weapons has come under public scrutiny as the result of numerous incidents across the country, including the death of airline passenger Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver, which prompted the Braidwood inquiry in British Columbia.

Kevin Brosseau, senior director of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP said he believes public scrutiny may be one of the reasons for nearly a 50 per cent drop in stun gun use by the Mounties over the last couple of years.

He said their use fell from about 1,200 uses in 2007 to about 650 in 2009.

"From my point of view, the reports -- whether it's the Braidwood inquiry or our report -- the significant media attention paid to this thing has given members of the police a greater appreciation of what this thing is and how it needs to be used in a more judicious way," Brosseau said in an interview.

Like Neve, Brosseau said stun guns are an important part of a police officer's arsenal as long as they are used properly.

Brosseau said a national policy is needed, but believes some forces may be reluctant to agree to a "one size fits all" set of guidelines.

"Every police force has its own terminology and is reluctant to change terminology to someone else's, but that is really what is going to have to happen," he said.

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