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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Justice ministers issue national guidelines on Tasers

October 15, 2010
The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - Federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers have agreed to new general guidelines on Taser use, but the broad recommendations come months after many provinces enacted similar rules on their own.

The new guidelines say "where possible" Taser use should be "avoided" on the pregnant, frail and elderly, as well as on children.

The guidelines add Tasers generally shouldn't be used on people who are already restrained, or who are driving a vehicle, bicycle or snowmobile.

Police officers are also urged to avoid zapping sensitive areas of the body such as the head, throat and genitals.

The guidelines echo those announced in Ontario this past March. Alberta, Nova Scotia and British Columbia clamped down on their Taser use policies last year.

"The development of these new national guidelines is another significant step in strengthening public confidence in police use of this important tool," federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said after a meeting of his provincial and territorial counterparts in Vancouver.

The new guidelines say police should avoid giving people successive jolts with a conducted energy weapon — the generic term — or zapping them for too long unless a single deployment fails to allow police to gain physical control of the person.

As well, police forces should establish a training policy and minimum training requirements for officers authorized to use a Taser, as well as for those who train others.

The latter point was underscored in an in-depth review of the Victoria Police Department's use of force policies that was also released Friday.

The report, by Vince Bevan, a retired Ottawa police chief, found that although the Victoria force was among the first in Canada to start using Tasers, its training in the use of the weapons had fallen drastically behind.

The report found that in 2005, all front-line Victoria police officers were trained and certified to use Tasers. But there has only been refresher training twice since then.

The Justice Institute of B.C. had included Taser training in their recruit program, but that was discontinued in 2006. As a result, no Victoria police officer hired since then has been certified to use the weapon.

"Because of the gaps in training, the effect of the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport and the subsequent Braidwood inquiry, few of the qualified officers are carrying the Taser as part of their regular equipment," wrote Bevan.

Among his 80 recommendations, Bevan urged the Victoria force to overhaul its Taser training program.

Bevan's report also noted a lax structure of keeping track of the Tasers in Victoria. Bevan noted they could be signed out by officers to be carried on patrol, but there was no process to ensure they were later returned.

The justice ministers also agreed that better tracking of the devices was needed. The guidelines include a requirement that an accurate inventory of the weapons be maintained, including their location.

Officers should be required to check their conducted energy weapon before and after their shifts and they should be required to submit a report whenever they've discharged one.

Those reports should be available to the public.

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the national guidelines introduced Friday are hardly a breakthrough.

"It's frustrating for us because they're so far behind," Eby said in an interview. "Most of what we understand they're recommending has already been done."

Eby said the justice ministers would have been better served to look at policy changes around the introduction and testing of new weapons.

When Ontario brought in its guidelines, critics panned the changes as "grossly inadequate," saying they do little to address concerns raised amid incidents that have seen police use Tasers against youths or the mentally ill.

At least 20 people in Canada are known to have died after being struck with a Taser.

Taser International has long insisted the weapon cannot kill.

Despite the myriad of bad publicity surrounding police use of the Taser, the head of the B.C. inquiry into their use rejected calls for an outright ban on the weapons.

Police groups across the country argue conducted energy weapons are less lethal than guns and save lives as a result.

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