RCMP officials relied too heavily on information provided by manufacturers when they developed their own stun gun policies and training programs, an independent review concludes.

The review of the Mounties' policies on the use of electrical stun guns, known by the brand name Taser, was prepared on the orders of RCMP Commissioner William Elliott.

The review was finished in June, but only made public on Friday.

"There was an overreliance on research carried out by [stun gun] manufacturers and/or the views of police services relying primarily on the research conducted or sponsored by the manufacturers," the review states in its conclusion.

"While manufacturers understandably need to provide (and are entitled to do so) information to potential customers or clients as part of their marketing and promotion efforts, the policing community needs to be assiduous in assessing the manufacturer's information."

Taser International, the American maker of Taser products, has done extensive research on its products and defends them as safe.

But Tasers, which are used by 73 police forces across the country, have been linked, although not directly, to at least 20 deaths in Canada. The most controversial case came last year when 40-year-old Robert Dziekanski of Poland died at Vancouver International Airport shortly after the RCMP shocked him.

That incident, which was caught on video, renewed calls for a moratorium on Taser use.

Didn't consult national medical agencies

The review, done by a group of independent consultants, concludes that the RCMP did an "inadequate" review of the literature available on Tasers and had an "overreliance" on anecdotal information.

And while the RCMP contacted two provincial schizophrenia societies for information, they should have contacted national medical and mental health associations, the review finds.

The review also concludes that while the RCMP relied on research done by professional police officers with some technical understanding of Tasers and practical expertise, the force should have sought the assistance of trained research and policy analysts.

"Having such practical knowledge is not a substitute for training in research and policy analysis," the review says.

The review also lashes out at the RCMP for using the term "excited delirium" when describing Dziekanski's death. 

Excited delirium describes a rare agitated state, when a person experiences an irregular heartbeat and suddenly dies. It is said to happen to psychiatric patients and people using drugs such as cocaine. Some health critics have questioned how real this condition is.

The review notes that although some coroners and emergency room doctors have used the term, the concept should be considered "folk knowledge."

"[It] should not be included in the RCMP's operational manual unless subsequently formally approved by the RCMP after consultation with a mental-health policy advisory body."  

RCMP making changes

The review notes that other police forces are plagued with the same decision-making problems as the RCMP.

"In hindsight, one wonders if the RCMP would have arrived at the same conclusions to use the [stun guns] at the time they did if these issues had been properly addressed," the review says.

"Perhaps there would have been a delay in implementation, or at least a limited deployment (e.g., to supervisors or their designates and to tactical squads)."

The review, which questions the safety of stun guns — especially when used on pregnant women, drug users or people with medical conditions — argues that there should be national standards to guide Taser use by police forces across the country. The standards could be developed with the help of the Canadian Firearms Centre and Public Safety Canada.

The review did praise the leadership of the RCMP for taking "great strides" in recent years to address the issues that have arisen with the use of stun guns.

The review comes on the heels of a report issued in June by Paul Kennedy, chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. He concluded that the force should restrict its use of stun guns and allow only experienced officers to handle the guns.

A spokesperson for Kennedy told CBC News on Thursday that the chairman is encouraged to know the independent review reached conclusions similar to his.

The RCMP said it is still studying the findings of the independent review, but noted that the force's Taser policy has already been changed significantly to address concerns brought to light in recent months.

Changes include:

  • Restricting the use of stun guns to incidents involving threats to an officer or public safety.
  • Requiring that officers be recertified for Taser use annually.
  • Increasing the amount of reporting done after a stun gun is used.
  • Publishing quarterly and annual reports on Taser use.

British Columbia RCMP Sgt. Tim Shields said the electrical stun guns are still considered an important tool.

"I've seen many, many times the Taser used successfully to stop very violent situations and prevent people from being hurt," he said.

"We want to make sure it's a safe weapon and for that reason we're fully co-operating with a number of of inquests and inquiries regarding the Taser's future with the RCMP."

Zaccardelli approved stun guns in 2001

The review notes that former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli approved the use of Tasers in December 2001, some three years after the stun guns were first used in Canada by Victoria police.

Unlike other police forces, which limit Taser use to high-ranking officers, the RCMP trains all its officers to use stun guns because 80 per cent of Mounties work with little backup in isolated or rural areas.

More than 9,000 RCMP officers are trained to use Tasers, the review says, noting they have collectively fired their guns more than 5,000 times.

The review notes that for years, the RCMP incorrectly classified its stun guns as prohibited weapons, as opposed to prohibited firearms, an error the Criminal Code also made. The term "weapon" appeared in RCMP policy and procedure books until 2007.

The review was based on interviews with justice officials, members of the RCMP and members of 16 other Canadian police forces. It also incorporated information from RCMP documents and manuals.

The Toronto Star obtained the review on Thursday through an Access to Information request. Some 16 pages were removed from the report before it was released to the Star, including the recommendations.

The review refers to Tasers as CEWs, or conducted energy weapons.