Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia review suggests clear standards for Tasers

The police use of Tasers varies among agencies in Nova Scotia and policy-makers should consider clear rules outlining when the weapons can be used, a new report says.

Justice minister awaiting further study from advisory panel

The police use of stun guns varies widely among agencies in Nova Scotia, and policy-makers should consider clear rules outlining when the weapons can be used, a report says.

The review of stun guns, released Wednesday, also suggests the province look at creating qualification standards for certification in using the weapons.

"I know the public is concerned about this device, and I too share their concerns," said Justice Minister Cecil Clarke, who ordered the review.

The minister also said he believes stun guns are an appropriate tool for police and prison guards, and noted he has not banned them.

The hand-held weapons, commonly known by the brand name Taser, deliver a jolt of electricity, immobilizing the person targeted. Advocates say they protect officers from harm, while opponents say they are deadly weapons.

The report prepared for the Department of Justice says the use of stun guns in Nova Scotia has gone up 80 per cent since 2005, from 101 times to 182 last year.

But Clarke is not reading too much into that jump.

"Some may question the reason for that increase," he said. "Part of the answer is contained in this report. The number of conducted energy devices has gone up and therefore so has their use."

Police and correctional agencies in Nova Scotia that use the weapons all have written policies regarding their use, the review found, but the situations for when the weapons can be used differ.

For example, some agencies require that an officer get permission from a supervisor to use the weapon. Some caution about firing the stun gun repeatedly, while others don't.

The amount of training differs, too. Municipal police and officers with sheriff services need eight hours of training to qualify to use the weapons, while RCMP and correctional officers need 16.

Clarke is waiting for an advisory panel to review the findings and make recommendations. The seven-person panel, which he named Wednesday, has two months to do its work.

Wants one standard

Liberal MLA Michel Samson is concerned the minister is not moving forward immediately to establish one standard for training across the province.

"I think in light of the fact that we have at least two deaths which have been directly linked to the use of a Taser, I don't think any Nova Scotian would accept being told that there's already enough training and there's no need to do more," Samson said.

Until there's one stun gun policy for all agencies, he added, the weapons should be banned.

Clarke called for the review last November, when a Dartmouth man died 30 hours after Halifax Regional Police used a stun gun on him.

Howard Hyde, 45, a paranoid schizophrenic, struggled with guards at the Dartmouth jail just before he died on Nov. 22. Officials would not link his death to the use of the Taser.

What about mental illness?

Stephen Ayer, with the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, is disappointed the report does not address mental illness.

"The brain already is agitated. The neurons are firing rapidly and then you go ahead and shoot somebody with a bolt of electricity on top of that. We don't know the ramifications of that, so we need to have some good scientific studies done around the impact of [zapping] people who are psychotic," Ayer said.

He said he hopes the panel looks closely at the dangers of using stun guns on anyone suffering from mental illness.

The debate over the use of the devices in Canada resurfaced last fall after the Taser-related deaths of two men.

In October, Robert Dziekanski, a 40-year-old Polish man, died at Vancouver International Airport shortly after being stunned with a Taser by police. A week later, Quilem Registre, 38, of Montreal, was zapped and died later in hospital.