August 8, 2009
Despite a dramatic drop in the RCMP’s use of stun guns in 2008, the force is still zapping some suspects five times or more with the controversial weapon.
Mounties shocked at least 16 suspects with a Taser five or more times, according to analysis done by CBC/Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press of RCMP reports released through access to information requests. Ten of the cases topped five stuns.
The most extreme example is an incident in southern B.C., where three officers from the Ridge Meadows RCMP detachment fired a Taser nine times on an unarmed person.
Another report indicated a suspect, who had been drinking heavily and acted aggressively, was jolted eight times. Two other cases involved seven deployments of a stun gun.
“It’s obvious that officers in using [stun guns] don’t seem to have any serious restraints on multiple use,” said NDP MP Jack Harris, the party’s public safety critic. “And it has been clearly shown that multiple use leads to a greater danger.”
Multiple Taser use has come under increased public scrutiny since the high-profile 2007 death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski in the Vancouver International Airport, which is the subject of a public inquiry. He died after officers deployed a Taser five times in less than a minute.
“As we saw in the case of Mr. Dziekanski, [being stunned five times] was a major contributing factor potentially to his death,” said federal Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland.
Holland echoed the concerns of his NDP counterpart, calling such extreme use of stun guns “egregiously wrong.”
Independent research conducted by Montreal biomedical engineer Pierre Savard has shown that increased exposure to stun guns is likely to raise the chance of death, a finding that runs contrary to claims made by manufacturer Taser International and many police forces.
Concern in isolated communities
Among the incidents recorded is one in Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, a Cree community of about 300 people in central Manitoba.
The RCMP report says three officers stunned a suspect six times in the community last year after the individual, who had been drinking, became “actively combative.”
Though the RCMP report doesn’t reveal names of suspects or exact dates of incidents, there are indications the suspect may have been Pierre Brass.
His friend Daren Mckay said Brass still has the barbs from when he was repeatedly stunned when Mounties arrested him on the reserve in September.
“He wasn’t resisting; the cops grabbed him and wrestled him down,” Mckay recalled. “They didn’t give him no chance or anything.”
Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says there’s growing concern about how Tasers are used, especially in isolated native communities often policed by the RCMP.
“When you Taser people, at some point in time, you’re crossing beyond the line of cruelty,” he said of repeated shocks.
Evans said aboriginal communities are vulnerable because there’s a sense “nobody will speak out on their behalf or no one will ever know if you Taser somebody in the remote communities.”
MPs call for RCMP to clarify policy
A CBC News investigation recently revealed that the RCMP softened parts of its stun-gun policy by deleting a key sentence ordering officers not to cycle the stun gun repeatedly or for more than 15 to 20 seconds at a time, unless the officer faced special circumstances.
That policy change, made this February, happened despite assurances from RCMP Commissioner William Elliott before a parliamentary committee that the force had adjusted its policy last June to curb multiple use of the stun gun.
The policy did add a warning that stun guns could cause death, particularly for agitated people. The policy also informs officers that multiple or continuous shocks may be hazardous.
RCMP Taser use overall dropped 30 per cent in 2008 compared to the previous year, marking the first decline in years.
But Harris and Holland, who are members of the parliamentary public safety committee studying Taser use, are calling for Elliott to return before the committee to explain the force’s policy on multiple stun gun use.
Sgt. Sylvie Tremblay, an RCMP spokeswoman, told CBC News and The Canadian Press in an email that Elliott has informed the committee that he’s “happy to reappear to clarify any confusion resulting from his previous statements to the committee.” A date has not yet been set.
“What’s particularly concerning is that Commissioner Elliott appeared before our committee [and] led us to believe that there were tighter restrictions on … [using] Tasers multiple times against an individual,” said Holland.
On Feb. 12, Elliott told the committee that the force had “taken steps to restrict” use of Tasers. The policy deletions were made nine days prior.
Elliott stressed in a letter to CBC News that the policy does include a warning to officers that multiple deployment or continuous cycling of a Taser “may be hazardous to a subject.”
The RCMP has not commented on the latest multiple-use findings from the 2008 data.
It’s unclear whether the only Taser-related death reported in 2008 involving the RCMP – Frank Frachette, 49, of Langley, B.C., who died on Sept. 30 – was among those jolted multiple times with a stun gun. The force has refused to comment on how many times he was stunned due to a potential inquest.
Holland says he plans to press Elliott for more details about the 16 cases when the RCMP commissioner next appears before the public safety committee.
“Certainly we’re going to want to ask him again on this question for the outstanding cases, if he could provide – at the very minimum – the public complaints commissioner with all the details of these cases,” said Holland.
And if the committee fails to get action on RCMP multiple Taser use, Harris said the committee may revive its call for a moratorium on use of Tasers until “we can get it under control.”
Hilary Homes of Amnesty International Canada says more independent research is needed, since most analysis has been linked to the largest stun gun manufacturer, Taser International Inc., or police forces.
“To hear that we’re continuing to see multiple stuns, including as many as five, is certainly of concern,” said Homes.
She said many studies, including a 2005 one in B.C., have recommended minimizing the use of multiple stuns due to the increased risk of harming the person.
When it comes to people in vulnerable states, she notes, the effects of a stun gun are still not well understood.
The data was acquired by CBC/Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press as part of an access to information request for RCMP records from 2002 to 2008, which has been compiled into a searchable database.
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