RCMP had no grounds to use Taser on N.W.T. girl: report

RCMP in the Northwest Territories has accepted nearly all the findings of a federal police watchdog's report, which says a police officer in Inuvik, N.W.T. should not have used a Taser on a teenage girl in 2007.

Police force also accused of protecting officer

The RCMP in the Northwest Territories has accepted nearly all the findings of a federal police watchdog's report, which says a police officer in Inuvik, N.W.T., was not justified in jolting a teenage girl with a Taser in March 2007.

The final report from the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, released Friday, also concluded that the Inuvik RCMP detachment appeared to have tried to cover up what happened,

"The manner in which the RCMP handled this matter was at best negligent and at worst biased," commission chairman Paul Kennedy wrote in his report, which was in response to a complaint filed by the girl's mother.

It's Kennedy's second damning report this week on the RCMP's use of Tasers. On Tuesday, he reported on the October 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport, making 16 recommendations that were highly critical of the four officers involved and the RCMP's followup investigation.

In Inuvik, two RCMP probes had cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. A similar investigation by the N.W.T. Justice Department also cleared corrections officials who were involved in the incident.

Handcuffed, held down

The girl, whom Kennedy identified as "Miss X" in his report, was a 15-year-old inmate at the Arctic Tern Young Offenders Facility in Inuvik when on March 13, 2007, she was subdued with an RCMP Taser while she was handcuffed and held face-down on the floor by jail staff.

Miss X cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, as she was a minor at the time.

Kennedy said the officer who used the stun gun, Const. Noella Cockney, had been called to the youth facility by staff who said the girl was not co-operating with their orders to go into a segregated area.

After Cockney gave Miss X several warnings, the girl swore at her and told her to go ahead and use the electric stun gun. The officer "deployed the Taser for a full five-second cycle, causing Miss X to co-operate," according to the report.

"There was no justification for that device to have been used in that fashion. None," Kennedy told reporters Friday in Yellowknife.

"You're in a custodial situation; you're not going to go very far. You're handcuffed — that's a problem — [and] you're lying on your stomach and with three people holding you down. So obviously there's no need for it."

2 versions of report

Cockney filed a report after the incident, but it was undated and printed nine months later. Kennedy said that report did not provide any detail on what Miss X was doing to justify using the Taser.

Cockney was not certified to use a Taser at the time, as her qualifications had expired about a year before, Kennedy found.

In November 2008 — as Kennedy was launching his own investigation of the Arctic Tern incident — a second version of the report was produced with "substantive amendments" portraying the girl as "combative."

That RCMP report stated the girl "was pulling and kicking, trying to get up or away from the workers" and she "became more aggitated [sic] and was swearing and pulling harder at the workers to let go."

Kennedy said that portrayal of Miss X's behaviour was quite different from what he had heard from the youth workers who were there.

Inuvik RCMP officials told Kennedy they told Cockney her original report had "insufficient detail" and asked her to articulate better what happened.

Kennedy concluded that the girl was in no position to harm anyone.

Resolved complaint improperly

He also ruled that the Inuvik RCMP detachment tried to resolve the girl's mother's complaint informally, which Kennedy said is an improper practice in response to allegations of improper use of force.

"The RCMP's handling of Miss X's mother's complaint was deficient in its management, timeliness and the adequacy of the investigation, such that it leads to a strong perception of bias," Kennedy stated.

"Moreover, attempts to informally resolve the complaint, and the failure to properly document it, were contrary to RCMP policy."

Kennedy's report makes 14 recommendations, ranging from additional procedural training for the Inuvik RCMP officers to broader policy changes for the national police force.

Policy has changed: RCMP

While the police force accepted Kennedy's findings Friday, RCMP spokesman Sgt. Brad Kaeding could not give a clear answer on whether use of the Taser was appropriate at that time, before procedures were tightened.

"For me to recall at this point exactly what was in place in 2007 in March is difficult to do. My understanding is that the Taser was not disallowed for active or even passively combatant individuals," Kaeding said.

"That has now been changed, and it is only to be used with people who are displaying assaultive behaviour or who are causing the risk of harm to themselves or others."

The commission is an independent, civilian-run agency created by Parliament to make sure complaints made by the public about RCMP members' conduct are examined fairly and impartially.

Kennedy's term at the commission ends on Dec. 31 and the Conservative government has said he will not be reappointed.