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Monday, April 11, 2011

Missed the memo on Tasers

april 11, 2011
Urban Compass by Paul Sullivan

Details on the Tasering of an 11-year-old boy at his group home by Prince George RCMP last Thursday are sketchy.

Whoa! Did I say “the Tasering of an 11-year-old boy?” Yup. And the details are sketchy. The boy in question allegedly stabbed a 37-year-old person with a steak knife, and then barricaded himself. I can’t tell from the reports at this point if he still had the knife.

But it wasn’t until he left the house that he was Tasered. The boy’s alleged victim has non-life-threatening injuries, and, as this is written, the condition of the boy isn’t clear. We do know our intrepid Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonde is on the case.

Her questions: “Why are we using Tasers on children? Did the police take steps to de-escalate the situation?” Good questions.

How hard can it be to subdue an 11-year-old? Even if he’s spitting like a cornered wolverine, he’s still 11. The RCMP is 138. Advantage RCMP.

In Lakewood, Colo., last week, an eight-year-old boy made international news when he was pepper-sprayed during a violent meltdown. Police chose not to Taser him because it would be too dangerous.

If the RCMP doesn’t know it by now, especially in the wake of the notorious death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport, those things are indeed dangerous. Critics say more than 245 people have died since Tasers were introduced as “non-lethal” alternatives to guns. According to the CBC, 20 of those deaths have occurred in Canada, several of those in B.C. and at least one in Prince George.

But those facts obviously don’t cut a lot of mustard with the RCMP, which apparently can’t bring down an 11-year-old without resorting to its officially authorized thunderbolt. It gets murky when you try to figure out exactly how much voltage ran through the targeted 11-year-old. Depending on the model, it’s anywhere from 1,500 to 50,000 volts. At least as bad as getting zapped by a toaster or an electrical outlet, and anyone who has been blown across the room by sticking a screwdriver where it shouldn’t go can.

By now, we shouldn’t be surprised by violence from children; this kid’s behaviour obviously required caution. What it did not require and will never require, was electrocution, even of the “non-lethal” variety.

The RCMP has changed its guidelines for using Tasers in the wake of the Dziekanski affair. Maybe the officer who Tasered the kid didn’t get the memo, but whatever happened, it’s time to take 11-year-olds out of the line of fire.

Once and for all.

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