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Saturday, April 16, 2011

EDITORIAL: Aiming higher - tasering of children must always be a last resort

April 16, 2011
Calgary Herald

The Tasering of an 11-year-old by a junior RCMP officer in British Columbia has rightfully put the controversial use of these weapons back under public scrutiny.

The RCMP have so far released little information about the April 7 incident in Prince George, other than a brief statement saying the boy was a suspect in the stabbing of a 37-year-old man at a group home. The boy fled to a neighbouring property, where he was found by police and arrested.

"Efforts were made to get the individual out of the house, and when he emerged from the home, a conducted energy weapon was deployed by a member," said the statement.

The officer, who has just 18 months experience, has been placed on administrative leave while the West Vancouver Police Department investigates the case.

The first disappointment is that police are using other police to investigate their conduct more than three years after the Robert Dziekanski tragedy and despite two public inquiries that recommended the establishment of a civilian-based investigative body, modelled on Ontario's Special Investigations Unit.

The lack of information at this stage is perhaps understandable after the Mounties mangled the media response to Dziekanski's death in October 2007 at Vancouver International Airport. RCMP released factually inaccurate information in the early stages of the criminal investigation, and then chose not to correct the inaccuracies.

The report from the internal investigation into the Prince George incident must be made public -the sooner, the better. The incident is another blow to the reputation of the once-proud Canadian institution, with strong criticism coming from high-profile observers.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, believes police should never be using Tasers on children.

She'll be conducting her own review into the case, because it's the province's responsibility to ensure the safety of kids in foster care or group homes.

"When we think about this being a very young aboriginal, vulnerable child, 11 years old, living away from home, in a group home, I can't think of a more vulnerable child," she said, adding the boy was assessed in hospital and released back into custody.

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP issued a news release saying it too is "closely monitoring the case."

Amnesty International Canada believes this is the youngest person to ever be Tasered by police in Canada.

Central Saanich Police Service is the only force in B.C. to prohibit the use of stun guns on children, the elderly, pregnant women and other vulnerable people.

Ultimately, clear regulations restricting the use of conducted energy weapons on children are needed, and they should be consistent across all police forces in the country.

The use of a Taser on a child should be permitted only in the rarest of circumstances. It should be deployed only if there is an immediate threat to life and after all lesser ways of de-escalating the situation have been exhausted.

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