RCMP must curb Taser use, watchdog says

The RCMP's watchdog is calling for the force to restrict its use of stun guns, saying the weapons are increasingly employed to subdue those who are resistant rather than those who pose a threat.

The RCMP's watchdog is calling for the force to restrict its use of stun guns, saying the weaponsare increasingly employed to subdue those who are resistant rather than those who pose a threat.

PaulKennedy,head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, released an interimreport Wednesday outlining recommendations for the government on the Mounties' use of Tasers.

The report stops short of calling for a moratorium on the weapon, butsays the force needs to limit its use, increase training for officers and conduct more research on the weapon's effects.

In the report, Kennedycriticizes theRCMP for failing tomanage the use of Tasers andallowing usage to grow over the past six years to include cases where people were "clearly non-combative."

"Use has expanded to include subduing resistant subjects who do not pose a threat of grievous bodily harm or death and on whom the use of lethal force would not be an option," the report says.

As it stands, Tasers are considered an "intermediate" tool alongside batons and pepper spray. The result isthat the weapons arebeing used "earlier than reasonable," Kennedy writes.

He says the electronic stun guns should be reclassified as an "impact weapon," meaning they should only be used by officers when there is the threat of death or grievous bodily harm to officers or the public.

More oversightneeded

Also among the recommendations is that the RCMP set up a national use-of-force co-ordinator to oversee policies and practices concerning Tasers and to make the Mounties more accountable over how they use the weapon.

The commission, an independent civilian agency, launched a probe into how the force uses Taser guns following the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, a case that attracted worldwide attention after a videotape capturing his death was released.

The 40-year-old died after four RCMP officers zapped him with a stun gun at least two times in the Vancouver International Airport. Since then, calls for a moratorium on Tasers increased as other cases surfaced, including the deaths of two people in Taser-related incidents in Nova Scotia and Quebec.

Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh applauded the watchdog's recommendations and called for each one to be immediately implemented by the Conservative government.

"[Tasers have] gone from being the weapons of second-last resort to being ordinarily used, even in non-combative situations where there's no danger," said Dosanjh.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said he will review the report before commenting.

"Our government takes this matter seriously and recognizes that Canadians must have full confidence in their national police force," Day said in a news release.

Not enough monitoring

The reportsaysthat there has beennot enoughaccountability or monitoring of theuse and effects of the weaponssince the RCMP introducedthem in 2001.

At first,their use was restricted to subduing those who resisted arrest, were combative or were suicidal, but through "usage creep" officers begandeploying them in othersituations.

The report points out that the RCMP has 2,840 stun guns and 9,132 members have been trained on their use.

Since December 2001, RCMP officers have deployedthem more than 3,000 times, the report says.

But in that time, not one report has been produced about theforce's useof stun guns, Kennedy writes, andthe forceonly began to fully collect data four years after the weapon's introduction.

Research on excited delirium

In the report, Kennedyalso callsfor more research to be done on the effects of Tasers, particularly on those with thedisputed conditionknown asexcited delirium.

Early in the police investigation into Dziekanski's death,investigators suggested he may have died of the condition.

Coroners around the world have named the rare condition of excited delirium in their reports, but some in the medical community dispute its existence.

According to some psychologists, those suffering from excited deliriumare agitated, sweat profusely and become violent and insensitive to pain. The victim's heart races, then eventually stops.