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Saturday, April 16, 2011

EDITORIAL: New guidelines are needed for Taser use

April 16, 2011
The Vancouver Sun

Certainly, there are no winners in the incident involving the RCMP Tasering of an 11-year-old aboriginal boy in Prince George last week.

But whatever the outcome of the investigation now being conducted by the West Vancouver Police Department, you can bet that the RCMP, and police forces across the province, will be the big losers.

Although very few details of the incident have been released, the Prince George Mounties have said that two officers responded to a 911 call involving a stabbing last Thursday afternoon.

Upon arriving, they "confirmed a 37-year-old male had been allegedly stabbed by an 11-year-old male."

The man was taken to hospital, and the 11-year-old suspect was found at a nearby property.

The officers tried to get him out of the house, and when he emerged, they Tasered him and took him into custody.

It's not clear if he was in possession of a weapon when he was subdued.

That's not a lot of information to go on, but many people have still expressed concern about the incident.

The concern is understandable given that the death of Robert Dziekanski is still fresh in many people's minds, and given that some officers have used Tasers in highly questionable circumstances, such as the Tasering of an 82-year-old man in his hospital bed in 2008.

Concerns are heightened in this case, however, since this boy is apparently the youngest subject of a Tasering in Canada.

The Tasering of children is something that seems not to even have been contemplated by most police forces, since few have any written policy on the matter.

And the Braidwood inquiry, which investigated the death of Dziekanski and the use of Tasers more generally, made no recommendations regarding Taser use on youth, although it did say that children, due to their small size, could be at increased risk from Tasers.

This is something that was confirmed by cardiologists in the days after the Prince George incident.

It is, therefore, imperative the RCMP and other police forces develop explicit guidelines regarding the use of Tasers on children.

This does not necessarily mean that Tasers should never be used -- one can imagine that Tasering a child might be indicated if the child is brandishing a firearm and all other means of defusing the situation have failed -- but for the sake of both the public and the police, officers do need clear instructions on what is acceptable and what isn't.

However, even if guidelines are developed and investigators conclude that officers adhered to them, many members of the public will remain suspicious as long as police continue to investigate themselves.

So in addition to highlighting the need for proper Taser guidelines, this case highlights, once again, the need for an independent, civilian-led agency to investigate allegations of serious misconduct against the police.

The development of a such an agency was, in fact, among the recommendations of the Braidwood Inquiry, and it was a recommendation that the province promised to implement.

For the sake of the public, and even more so, for the sake of public confidence in the police, Premier Christy Clark should make fulfilling this promise a priority.

This editorial first appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

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